Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Kelly MacDonald, Shirley Henderson, Gordon Kennedy.
Released in 1996, Trainspotting overcame its modest origins to become an instant cult classic. Based on Irvine Welsh’s 1993 snarky anarchic novel about four friends and set against the backdrop of the gritty underbelly of Edinburgh’s drug culture Trainspotting seemed to define a generation and speak to the disenfranchised and alienated youth of the time.
Trainspotting followed the misadventures of Renton (Ewan McGregor), the hopelessly addicted Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and the volatile, foul-mouthed and self-destructive Begbie (Robert Carlyle). The film made stars out of McGregor and Carlisle in particular, and launched the career of director Danny Boyle. Since then McGregor has become a major star and Miller has gone on to star in the hit tv series Elementary, a contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, set in New York, while Boyle has won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire.
Trainspotting ended with Renton double crossing his friends over a big drug deal, making off with the proceeds and flying off to Amsterdam, leaving the other three to deal with the consequences. This sequel reunites the foursome, but while they may be older they are not necessarily wiser.
After two decades abroad, Renton has cleaned up his act, kicked the drug habit and has worked out. He figures that enough time has passed and it is safe to return home to Edinburgh to confront the demons of his misspent and wasted youth. He arrives home just in time to stop Spud from killing himself. It is obvious that Spud has not been travelling well in Renton’s absence and he is not in a good place health wise. Meanwhile Sick Boy has reverted back to his real name of Simon and is operating a blackmail scheme with his Bulgarian prostitute girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova).
The reunion between Renton and Simon does not go well, but soon the pair join forces to transform The Port Sunshine, a grotty and run down pub that was a fixture of their childhood, into an upmarket brothel. The pub itself is located in the middle of an urban wasteland, surrounded by soulless, grey high rise tenement block and junkyards. Meanwhile, Begbie has organised an ingenious escape from prison and comes looking for revenge.
T2: Trainspotting is based on Welsh’s novel Porno, which took up the story some ten years later and was focused on the pornography industry. However due to the troubled nature of adapting the novel and in getting the key creative people and cast together it has taken twenty year to bring the sequel to the screen. Given the disappointing results of other recent belated sequels like the awful Zoolander 2, I had mixed expectations for this sequel. But thankfully the results are good, and the sequel retains much of the in-your-face attitude and anarchic spirit of the original.
Scriptwriter John Hodge, who wrote the original film, has a good handle on the characters and this world and the gritty setting. He taps into a rich vein of black humour here that undercuts some of the darker nature of the material. This film offers up a sombre reflection on how we deal with the past. Sick Boy and Begbie, in particular, carry around a lot of resolved emotional baggage from the past.
Boyle brings the same frenzied energy and visual flair to the material, and his energetic approach belies the fact that he is also twenty years older. His direction is stylish. And, despite the fact that these are fairly unlikeable, duplicitous and deeply flawed characters, it is obvious that Hodge, Boyle and co have a great deal of affection for these reprobates. And there are numerous references and visual nods to the original, including some archival footage that shows younger versions of the four protagonists and some sly winks in the direction of a couple of iconic moments. Kelly MacDonald and Shirley Henderson briefly reprise their roles from the original but are generally wasted.
Carlyle, who played a villain in the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, brings a menacing quality to his performance here, but he also manages to find the absurd humour in Begbie’s actions. He has also transformed the character into a vengeful psychopath who is trying to tempt his teenage son to follow his violent footsteps. The core cast exhibit a palpable chemistry and deliver strong performances in their roles, and they elicit a measure of sympathy for their circumstances.
Boyle’s regular cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle bathes the film in hyper realistic colours and he also captures the harsh gritty atmosphere of the streets of Edinburgh. He upgrades the original’s gritty visual aesthetic for a sleeker surface look with saturated lighting.
The original also featured a great soundtrack of cutting edge contemporary Brit pop that added to the immediacy and energy of the film. For some reason though here the producers have opted for a soundtrack that draws heavily on 1984, with the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Blondie and Queen’s Radio Ga-ga.
Your reaction to T2: Trainspotting will largely depend on how you responded to the original – if you loved it and its energy then you will find plenty to enjoy about this sequel, but if you hated it then it’s probably best if you give this one a miss.