Trainspotting (1996) [Review]

94 min August 09, 1996

Plot: “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family…” Mark Renton (McGregor) and his so-called friends – a bunch of losers, liars, psychos, thieves and junkies – have been friends for a long time. But that friendship begin to disintegrate as they proceed seemingly towards self-destruction. Mark alone has the insight and opportunity to escape his fate – but then again does he really want to “choose life”?

Reviewed

With a sequel out now, T2 Trainspotting (2017), it seemed like a good time to back and take a look at the original, Trainspotting. And what better movie to continue our Throwback Thursday Reviews (after our tasteful kick off with Soylent Green (1973) on Thanksgiving)? But, would this 90’s flick have fared well over the years? Or is this just another pop culture movie that has lost it’s charm in the intervening decades since it’s release?

Ewan McGregor, who has since gone on to portray a younger Obi-Wan in PHANTOM MENACE and it’s sequels, stars as Renton, a heroin addict without any real morals. Unlike many of his later films, his Renton isn’t supposed to be a heroic figure. In fact, he doesn’t really do anything to get the viewer to like him. In spite of that, the viewer will find themselves cheering on some of Renton’s actions almost without realizing it. He’s the hero of Trainspotting, a film that doesn’t really have heroes.

Ewan’s joined by some other up-and-comers who have made name for themselves in the intervening years. Johnny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) would go on to become Sherlock Holmes in “Elementary” (TV) and Robert Carlyle would pop up again in a starring role opposite Samuel L. Jackson in Formula 51 (2002). In fact, Ewen Bremner was the only one of the quarter who hadn’t made a name for himself – until Wonder Woman (2017), where he’s a treat as a gunner who’s lost his nerve.

With this kind of cast in their early stages, it’s no surprise that despite the subject matter and the harsh Scottish accents, Trainspotting draws viewers in. Living in squalor and suffering all forms of degradation, there isn’t much of a reason to like these characters. And yet, Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and even Begbie grow on the viewer throughout the course of the film. Sure, you wouldn’t want to hang out with them, but there’s something somewhat endearing about these losers – despite their obviously messed-up lives.

Trainspotting is a shockingly harsh look at heroin addiction. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, this film doesn’t flinch from showing the highs of heroin addiction – but it doesn’t shy away from the lows, either. While the film has been criticized as being both pro-drug and anti-drug, it’s more of a gritty portrayal of addiction. The users in the film only have one goal – get high. Nothing else matters. Whether it’s stealing or screwing each other over, nothing else matters – only the chance to get some more heroin does.

Of course, the harsh reality of the film lets viewers know the downside of that attitude. Whether it’s neglecting their friends, destroying their lives, or the way their morals have been ruined by their need, Trainspotting delves into the dirty side of addiction with the same relish. Holding nothing back, the film at times can be quite disgusting. Even then, there’s always a dry wit evident in the sequences, and the viewer still won’t want to miss a moment.

If you haven’t seen Trainspotting yet, you really should. At times crude, disgusting, vulgar and shocking, this harsh look at heroin addiction is movie that needs to be seen. Not for any pro-drug or anti-drug reasons, but rather as remarkable filmmaking with a quarter of actors that shine together.

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