Trainspotting (1996) Review

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(Trainspotting - 1996 - CC. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Miramax Films)
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“Personality, I mean that’s what counts, right? That’s what keeps a relationship going through the years. Like heroin, I mean heroin’s got a great fucking personality.” – Sick Boy, Trainspotting (1996).

Danny Boyle is a director I am extremely hit and miss with. I’ve only watched two of his films, and so far I’ve only liked one of them. I have in fact reviewed both of the films I have seen from him. Sunshine (2007) was, well, it wasn’t too good. Basically it was just a weirder and more dumbed down version of Alien (1979). On the other hand though, Trainspotting is a marvellous piece of film. It’s one of those films that I should have seen by this point, but for whatever reason I just hadn’t. Clearly, as you’re reading this, you can hazard a guess and say that I have now in fact watched this film.

Over the years this film has been considered a true cult classic. Possibly one of the most well known bits of this film is of course the “Choose Life” speech. Let’s be real, that is honestly one of the best openings to any film of all. It’s delivered fantastically by Renton (Ewan McGregor) and above all the direction for this scene is a true marvel. This opening speech led me to the wild assumption that this film was all about heroin. Nothing wrong with that, Scotland is notorious for its heroin consumption, just behind shortbread in that regard.

There were some genuinely weird moments throughout this film, all of which were brilliant (Trainspotting – 1996 – CC. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Miramax Films)

I think one of the most unique selling points of all for this film was the cast. A lot of recognisable faces feature throughout this film. The most obvious of all is Ewan McGregor who stars as Renton. His running commentary throughout the film is basically him explaining his way and actions throughout. It’s a very good fit for the film, and Danny Boyle is an expert in making sure this works. Thanks to McGregor’s excellent acting, there are some truly memorable scenes in this film. A lot of these scenes of course involve Renton. There’s one scene where the baby turns its head 180 degrees. I’ve seen that clip before, and I always assumed it was from a horror film of some description. How very wrong I was, turns out it’s from Trainspotting.

Some of the scenes in this film were extremely trippy. I am of course talking about the “Worst Toilet in Scotland” scene, where Renton climbs into a toilet and goes swimming. Even now, two weeks after watching this film, it feels extremely weird to write a sentence like that. Scenes like that are truly what makes this film seem fantastic though. Seeing Renton shit out some heroin tablets and climb into the toilet after them is a truly lucid experience. Again it’s all down to some great acting by Ewan McGregor. At this point I should let you know, Renton wasn’t my favourite character. By all means, he was great, McGregor is a fantastic actor, but my favourite character was Begbie.

I have seen three films that star Robert Carlyle, one of which I have reviewed, 24: Redemption (2008). I didn’t like that film all that much, and I felt his role was very out of place. It’s a whole different story with Trainspotting, I never realised until now how much of a bloody good actor he truly is. The rest of the cast are on a similar wavelength, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is an excellent edition to the cast and offers probably the most emotional storyline of all. In my notes I’ve written down that Sick Boy slags off David Bowie, so I mean, I didn’t like his character all that much.

A good film should always have you on the edge of your seat. There were quite a few moments where Trainspotting would throw in a plot twist just for the sake of having one. This was certainly not a bad thing, not at all, some of the twists were truly unexpected. The best part of these twists was how unique they were. Trainspotting surprisingly manages to avoid a number of expected cliches and instead forms one of the most unique and intriguing plots in modern cinema history. It’s edge of your seat and even gag worthy entertainment at times. Sometimes the pacing was a little off, I must admit that. Not spoiling anything, but the film aimlessly darts from extremely hilarious to offbeat edginess and then ends on an emotional farewell. There’s something about that which just doesn’t work all that well for me.

There was some truly marvellous direction throughout from Danny Boyle (Trainspotting – 1996 – CC. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment/Miramax Films)

One thing should be noted in particular, and that is the soundtrack. Aside from the use of one of the best Pulp songs of all, it’s a solid soundtrack overall. I’m a firm believer that a soundtrack is integral to the success of a film. With a film like Trainspotting, the use of music is excellent and consistent, to the point where the film more or less revolves around the soundtrack. That’s certainly not a bad thing with this film, atonal sound is integral to any and every film. When music is used in this film, we know where we are in the story. Regardless of critical commentary, it’s just kind of cool to hear Mile End being used in a film like this.

Aside from music though, cinematography and direction is of course essential and integral. As I’ve briefly mentioned spontaneously throughout this review, Danny Boyle has got some solid direction going throughout this film. He manages to somehow balance emotional pieces with the weirder portions of the film. Sometimes he even blends the two together, and to be quite honest it’s truly marvellous. What I like about his direction in this is that there’s no real start or end point to the film. There’s no use of Todorov or any specific direction in regard to the plot. No theory can be applied to it because it somehow manages to avoid every sort of theory.

Verdict

Film is a place where you can let your imagination run loose. Sometimes, this imagination can lead to scenes where Obi Wan Kenobi does a Sean Connery impression and then shoots a dog up the arse. A genuine scene that is featured in Trainspotting right there. I do honestly think that’s the appeal of the film as a whole though. Aside from the great performances, excellent direction and solid writing, there’s just something about this film in particular. It feels like it’s on a completely new level altogether. Trainspotting isn’t something that you can put on and watch, it’s something that you experience.

If anything, Trainspotting has rekindled my interest and confidence in Danny Boyle as a director. There were some brilliant scenes throughout this film and I can’t help but feel that the direction is why. One scene that sticks out for me is the interview with Spud where he does an interview while under the effects of speed. I definitely feel a lot more inclined to check out the rest of his work now. After the disappointment that was Sunshine, this cult classic has done more than enough to persuade me to watch the rest of the Danny Boyle saga of films. It’s sharp, witty, hilariously disgusting and above all has a truly lasting impact that can be felt twenty two long years later.

As a short bonus, turns out I was named Ewan because my Mam and Dad enjoyed this film. I’m literally named after a heroin addict. The more you know I guess.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Trainspotting
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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