Nothing so perfectly captures 90s Britain as Trainspotting. It seems cliché to say it now and many an article and blog post has been written which details the reasons Trainspotting is the culmination of British 90s culture but from the moment the movie begins, with Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life helping to set the tone and pace of a running Ewan McGregor, you can’t help but be taken back to those heady days.
From that moment the movie never lets you go. It is a fast-paced, visceral watch which throws at you a multitude of different ideas, sounds, designs and set-pieces which bring you into a world most would run from in a heartbeat. The fact that we find this world so interesting from the outset is testament to how accessible director Danny Boyle manages to make it.
This is of course down to the characters we follow. All of them are unique and all of them feel real. It would be difficult to claim anyone “knows” a person who reflects a character from the movie (and God help you if you do) but you can see the realism in each of the people on-screen. Ewan McGregor is a likable, appealing lead in that he is the least offensive and the person you would feel least scared of if you were forced to share a confined space. It is an irony that he also has to do some of the worst things in the film, particularly a strange sequence where he frequents the “Worst Toilet in Scotland.”
As appealing as he is, McGregor’s Renton is the least interesting character but only because the others shine with development. Ewen Bremner’s Spud shows the sorrowful side of drug abuse, harmless to anyone else but himself. Jonny lee Miller’s Sick Boy is detestable but gets some of the more emotion-fuelled moments, particularly involving a baby. He would be the worst character as well, if not for the movie-stealing turn by Robert Carlyle.
Movie’s biggest villains lists will often be populated with the likes of Darth Vader, Cruella De Ville or Hans Gruber but you’d be hard-pressed to find a character as terrifying and unrelenting as Carlyle’s Begbie. A drunken, violent and unhinged man, Begbie keeps the audience glued to the screen. A scene involving a glassing and a pub brawl highlights all in a few minutes why this character is both compelling and terrifying in equal measure. You like to watch his actions but you are thankful you don’t know anyone like him.
Which is a big draw for how effective Trainspotting is. It is a world that you don’t want anything to do with but can’t help but be drawn into. It has a curious interest for audiences who live lives far removed from the drug-taking, theft and violence that these characters witness. Boyle manages to craft some moments which will stay with anyone long after the credits and offer what feels like a realistic take on the world of heroin abuse.
Scenes vary from McGregor collapsing into a carpet, demonstrating the highs of heroin, to the opposite: enduring a cold turkey detox which involves hallucinations, screaming and a nightmarish mix of terrible moments played out previously in the film. This is early Ewan McGregor but it is easy to see why it made him such a star.
Overall, Trainspotting is an iconic piece of 90s cinema. It has a fast-paced soundtrack, an unrelenting mix of trippy moments and harsh realism which keeps you compelled throughout. It has a host of brilliant actors, delivering memorable roles while also showcasing a world that is bleak, uninviting but all at once engrossing.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)