Sunday, April 07, 2013


Originally Written and Posted at on 12/23/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting is the story about a group of heroin addicts living in the economically-depressed world of Edinburgh, Scotland as one of the addicts is struggling to find a life outside of heroin addiction. Directed by Danny Boyle and screenplay by John Hodge, the film is an exploration into the life of a young man dealing with his own heroin addiction as well as trying to maintain his friendship with those are addicts and those who aren't. Starring Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Kelly MacDonald, Peter Mullan, Shirley Henderson, and Robert Carlyle. Trainspotting is an outstanding yet harrowing film from Danny Boyle.

Drug addiction is often used as a way to escape from the world of reality no matter how bad it is. For Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), he uses it as a way to get away from the real world as well as what it offers as he has friends who use it as well as those who don't do it. Still, Renton is eager to try to withdraw himself from the drug in an attempt to live a clean life as well as trying to get out more socially. Though he would eventually form a relationship with an underage woman in Diane (Kelly MacDonald), it wouldn't be enough as he is often drawn back to the world of addiction as he even gets one of his friends in Tommy (Kevin McKidd) to be part of this troubled world. After a series of circumstances and an encounter with Diane, Renton attempts to start a new life in London but old friends would only bring trouble as he is suddenly drawn into an even darker world involving crime as he tries to maintain something that would allow him to live a good life.

John Hodge's screenplay is unique for the way it explores the life of a young man and his struggles as it's told largely from his perspective with a lot of voice-over narration. While it's a film with a very grim subject matter, there's humor in the script that is filled with some stylish dialogue as well as scenes that are just terrifying to watch such as Renton trying to retrieve suppositories in the most disgusting toilet in Scotland. Still, Hodge's script has a structure where the first act is about his attempts to withdraw from heroin. The second act is his return to heroin and a near-death experience while the third is his life in London where he tries to start a new life only for his old friends to arrive and nearly ruin things. Through this narration, Renton allows himself to explain the unique world of heroin as well as his everything he's going through as well as his later life being a clean young man trying to make it in London where it's an entirely new world.

Danny Boyle's direction is very stylish as it's filled with lots of dark and funny moments through his unique compositions and scene staging. Yet, some compositions include references to the Beatles and scenes that can be a mix of beauty and ugly. Even in how Boyle would shoot a scene, notably Renton's near-overdose as he tells the film from Renton's perspective. Yet when Boyle creates funny moments, he creates something that can be disgusting to watch yet finds the right note of humor to create that scene. For the film's scenes in Edinburgh, the whole look seems a bit depressing and grey in contrast to the sunnier, colorful world of London. Boyle maintains a look and style to the film as he creates an energetic, fun, harrowing, yet sensational film that is repeatedly watchable.

Cinematographer Brian Tufano creates a unique look to the film with its grey, colorless look of exterior Edinburgh in the daytime with the smoky nighttime scenes at the club. Even some of the interior shots have a unique look to convey the troubled, hazy moods of Renton on dope. The look of London Tufano creates is more colorful in its exterior and interior scenes. Notably the nightclub rave scene to reveal the contrast world of retro-driven Edinburgh and the electronica world of London. Editor Masahiro Hirakubo is excellent in its rhythm, speed-cuts to emphasize the emotions of Renton, and transitions to reveal the world that Renton is surrounded by.

Production designer Kave Quinn and art director Tracey Gallacher do an excellent work in the look of some of the dirty, decayed look of Edinburgh in its apartments and other exterior worlds. The look for London is more clean and colorful until Begbie and Sick Boy arrives to make a mess of things. Costume designer Rachael Fleming does excellent work in the decayed look of the street clothes that the men wear while Sick Boy gets to wear nice suits. Yet, it's the sparkly dress that Diane wears that really stands out among the costumes as it looks great. Sound recordist Colin Nicholson and effects editor Jonathan Miller do great work in capturing the sound locations, action, and dance-club scenes.

The film's soundtrack is truly one of the greatest film soundtracks ever made with music legends like Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, and Lou Reed plus tracks by Brit-pop luminaries like Blur, Blur vocalist Damon Albarn, Elastica, Primal Scream, Pulp, and Sleeper. Other tracks ranging from 80s stalwarts like New Order and Heaven 17 to electronic acts like Leftfield, Bedrock, Ice MC, and Underworld provide the idea of new Britain. Orchestral pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and Georges Bizet are used for comic effect as it's easily one of the greatest film soundtracks ever created.

The casting by Andy Pryor and Gail Stevens is wonderfully assembled with cameo appearances by the book's novelist Irvine Welsh as Mikey Forrester, Dale Winton as a game show host, screenwriter John Hodge as a security officer, producer Andrew MacDonald as a buyer of one of the flats Renton sells, and costume designer Rachael Fleming as a nurse. Small roles like James Cosmo and Eileen Nicholas as Renton's parents are good as is Susan Vidler as Allison, Shirley Henderson as Gail, and Pauline Lynch as Lizzy. Peter Mullan is great in a small but memorable supporting role as Swanney, the dealer who cooks up heroin for Renton and the gang. In her film debut, Kelly MacDonald is great as Diane. The underage young woman who looks older but provides a sense of surprise and wisdom to Renton in making him change his life as MacDonald is funny and charming in her film debut.

Kevin McKidd also does great work in his film debut as Tommy, a clean-cut man who gets dumped by his girlfriend only to succumb to the troubles of heroin addiction. McKidd's performance is excellent to see someone full of life and hope go down only to bring a sense of guilt to the film's protagonist. Ewen Bremner is excellent as Spud, the most innocent and comical member of the group as he's often clueless despite his earnestness and being just a good guy. Jonny Lee Miller is wonderfully slimy and witty as Sick Boy, the Sean Connnery-loving guy who likes to look good while being just as sleazy and untrustworthy. Robert Carlyle is amazing as the psychopathic Begbie, a guy who likes to intimidate people and be the leader. Carlyle's performance is fun to watch in every scene he's in as he's just one of cinema's most unlikely badasses. Finally, there's Ewan McGregor in a breakout performance as Renton. The protagonist trying to leave the world of heroin addiction while struggling with his addiction. McGregor's performance is really the heart of the film as he provides the sense of struggle and hopefulness in his performance.

Trainspotting is an exciting, funny, yet harrowing film from Danny Boyle. Thanks to Boyle's stylish direction, John Hodge's witty screenplay, a superb soundtrack, and an amazing ensemble cast led by Ewan McGregor. It remains one of Britain's beloved films as well as one of the best films ever made. With a lot of memorable scenes both funny and horrifying, it's a film that remains unforgettable in whatever scene that is shown. In the end, for a film that is witty, dark, yet mesmerizing, Trainspotting is the film to go check out.

Danny Boyle Films: Shallow Grave - A Life Less Ordinary - The Beach - 28 Days Later - Millions - Sunshine - Slumdog Millionaire - 127 Hours - Trance - Steve Jobs (2015 film) - T2 Trainspotting - (Yesterday (2019 film))

Related: Trainspotting OST - Favorite Films #10: Trainspotting

© thevoid99 2013


Chris said...

As promised over at my blog, I'm giving your essay a read. Good point that it's both grim and with humor. It's a tricky balance to get right and something I'll look out for when I rewatch this 90s classic. Definitely a film that has a unique visual style and I can't imagine anyone else than Ewan McGregor as Renton. Great post!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I hope you enjoy that essay.