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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Trainspotting

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle
Director: Danny Boyle
Rated: R
RunTime: 94 Minutes
Release Date: July 1996
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Cult

*Also starring: Ewen Bremner, Susan Vidler, Shirley Henderson, Peter Mullan, Pauline Lynch, Kevin McKidd, Kelly Macdonald, Jonny Lee Miller

Review by Mark Fleming
4 stars out of 4

Right from the opening sequence, as shoplifting Renton (Ewan MacGregor) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) flee security guards the strains of Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life', this exhilarating film marked a promising peak for mid-90's British moviemaking. While the production/direction team of Danny Boyle and Andrew MacDonald has still to reconquer these dizzying heights, Trainspotting is a modern classic - at times stylishly original, entertaining and thought- provoking.

The story centers on a group of mates gravitating around heroin-abuse in Edinburgh, Scotland. Every aspect of the nature of this highly addictive drug is exposed on screen, from its glamorous allure, to its sordid downside. We see Renton and co. enraptured by their hits; we witness one of the gang succumbing to full-blown AIDS contracted by sharing an infected needle. As in Irvine Welsh's compelling novel, at no point does the film seek to glamourise, or even presume to question the social conditions that might provoke people into this self- destructive behaviour. It merely homes in on a very real problem at the heart of contemporary life; depicting its victims as sometimes tragic, often hilarious, 3- dimensional characters, rather than hollow-eyed caricatures.

Anyone who has read the best-selling book will have fixed impressions of each character. But an exceptionally strong cast ensures you can identify with the dramatization, and the glossily stylistic approach Boyle has employed to add poignancy. MacGregor is excellent as a basically decent guy struggling with a habit, and idiotic mates. Robert Carlyle's Begbie roams the narrative like a ticking time- bomb. One casual explosion of alcoholic violence in a quiet pub places the pariah status of heroin users in perspective. More interesting are Bremner's lovably dumb Spud, Johnny Lee Miller's sneering, narcissistic Sick Boy, Kevin McKidd's blustering but doomed Tommy, and Peter Mullen as a curiously down-to-earth 'skag' dealer.

John Hodge's adaptation maintains an excellent momentum, and an astute soundtrack enhances the plot. Lost suppositories, an overdose and a cold turkey scene are treated with inventive surrealism so the more mature and open-minded audience members are never repulsed into simply switching off. Unlike other films that have treated heroin addiction gratuitously, homing in on the sordid dropout lifestyle, Trainspotting deals with people who realise the situation they are in and react in different ways. Above all else, it distills much comedy from its bleak subject; although some of this, it has to be said, is blacker than an amputated lung. If you were the type that fainted at school biology experiments, then be warned that bodily functions are used with an irreverent relish in illustrating the unfortunate side effects of drug usage.

Much of the stage sets owe their origins to the highly successful stage adaptation that preceded the film. The masterstroke here is that although Boyle has created a surreal version of reality, we quickly accept the lurid backdrop.

Just as Welsh's fiction celebrates club culture, the pounding soundtrack gives an added buzz to visuals. Particularly effective is Brian Eno's ambience when Renton is underwater; and Underworld's thundering 'Born Slippy.'

Films providing a genuine adrenalin rush are rare. This is one.

Copyright 2001 Mark Fleming

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