Film Review: Trainspotting (1996)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1996 (UK)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge
Based on: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Music by: various
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald

Channel Four Films, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We took morphine, diamorphine, cyclizine, codeine, temazepam, nitrazepam, phenobarbitone, sodium amytal, dextropropoxyphene, methadone, nalbuphine, pethidine, pentazocine, buprenorphine, dextromoramide, chlormethiazole. The streets are awash with drugs you can have for unhappiness and pain, and we took them all. Fuck it, we would have injected vitamin C if only they’d made it illegal.” – Mark “Rent-boy” Renton

I haven’t watched this film in quite awhile but with its sequel finally coming out, 21 years later, I had to revisit this before seeing the long awaited followup.

Trainspotting, as much as I enjoyed it in my teens and twenties, is a better film than I remembered, seeing it now in my thirties. Or maybe, I just have a bigger appreciation for what’s good in film now that I’m older.

Out of everything that I’ve seen from director Danny Boyle, this is still my favorite of all his films. How does something so stylized feel so real? His use of music and the cinematography he employed create a hip yet gritty world that is very much a product of the 90s while tapping into the vibe of the 80s.

This is also a film that is perfectly cast. Ewan McGregor shines as Rent-boy and his crew are like chaotic satellites crashing into each other and everything else in his orbit.

The film is a perfectly orchestrated mess populated with characters who are tragic, insane, sad and wild but still relatable even in a highly exaggerated state. If you have ever been around real drug addicts, you have experienced these types of characters. Hell, if you went to good parties in high school or college, people like this were everywhere, at least in the 90s when I experienced my youth.

The camerawork in this picture is fantastic and a lot of the shots are mesmerizing, even if they exist in an uncanny level of filth and squalor. The toilet scene is one of the most disgusting things in cinema history but it is so well captured that you can’t look away from it and you have to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Boyle was a guy slightly ahead of the curve. Other directors employed similar techniques in countless attempts to mimic this film but Boyle brought something to the table that set him apart and to this day, still keeps his work, in this picture, far above the imitators.

This is a rough picture to get through if you’re not prepared to truly experience this lifestyle at its lowest. It is rough even if you are prepared but it is a film with a pretty stark message about addiction and how it can literally possess people in the worst ways. It is also about trying to overcome that chemical possession and truly finding a way to live again.

Between the narration, the despicable crew of screwed up youths and the overall style of the film, there are a lot of parallels between this and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. It is easy to see that this film was inspired by that 1971 masterpiece but it is still very much its own thing. There is even a scene in a bar that looks very much like the bar from Clockwork and it almost gives you a sense that maybe this does exist in that world, decades later.

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