ON IN CINEMAS
The four surviving original Trainspotting characters reunite 20 years later in this sequel.
Renton (Ewan McGregor), who now works for a software company in Amsterdam, flies back to Edinburgh to catch up with family and friends. He discovers a city that has undergone sweeping gentrification - one where many of the accents are more East European than Scottish. Spud (Ewen Bremner), perpetually frustrated at his inability to meet job centre appointments let alone hold down a steady job, has returned to the smack. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is running a hustle with his Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) involving him blackmailing members of high society by filming them their involvement in kinky hotel room sex sessions with the latter and threatening to mail the incriminating footage to their wives. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is spending a long spell in prison and, having been refused parole, gets one of his fellow inmates to shiv him so that he will get transferred to a local hospital. Once there he manages to contrive to escape and then return to catch up with the partner and son who he hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Spud, ashamed of his inability to quit his habit and provide the life that his estranged partner Gail (Shirley Henderson) deserves, attempts to commit suicide in his flat by suffocating himself with a plastic bag. However, at that moment Renton (who has come to pay him a visit) manages to catch him just in time. The pair renew their old friendship as he tries to persuade Spud to become addicted to something else instead of heroin. Renton also catches up with Sick Boy at the bar where he works - something that initially makes the latter furious as he beats him up for stealing the cash at the end of the original film. Gradually however this pair too drift back into their old friendship and get involved in a series of dubious schemes to raise money to open a so-called “sauna” in Leith for Veronika. Begbie, on the other hand, doesn’t let go of old grudges so easily.
Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting (based on Irvine Welsh’s novel) is arguably THE iconic Scottish film of recent decades. An exhilarating, stylish, hilarious and disturbing look at the lives of a group of Edinburgh junkies, it made Scotland’s capital cool and catapulted both director Boyle and star McGregor into Hollywood circles. Ironically their move across the pond also put in motion their falling out, as Boyle promised McGregor the starring role in his fourth film The Beach (2000) but in the end gave it to Leonardo DiCaprio who had become an even bigger star than the former due to the colossal box office success of Titanic. While Welsh had written a follow-up novel to Trainspotting (titled Porno) it seemed that any screen adaptation reuniting Boyle and McGregor would be an unlikely prospect.
Well… here it is. Rather than an adaptation of Porno however it’s a brand new story that also takes a deeper look into the early backgrounds of the characters (via flashbacks) in a way that was covered in more detail in the original Trainspotting novel but left out of the original film. While it’s a stretch to say that T2 is as vital and fresh a film as the first one was, it’s still a sequel that doesn’t disgrace its legacy. It arguably feels a little too self-consciously contrived in the way that it delivers a few audience-pleasing nods at recreating key moments from its predecessor, but it is often very funny and, even better, manages to imbue more depth to its characters in a manner that’s touching and respectful.
There’s a genuine core of sadness here as we look at a bunch of characters who have been thrown to the bottom of society at a time when Edinburgh (and in particular certain areas such as Leith) was a rough and drug-ravaged place, but have now discovered themselves out of step with a city rapidly gentrifying yet paradoxically leaving the poorer sections of society further and further behind. Their struggles to act outside of their respective failure-padded boxes provides us with the most effective moments of drama here, as Begbie discovers that “like father, like son” doesn’t always hold true as his own is more interested in attending college than taking part in a life of crime and violence. Spud, inspired by Renton to find his addiction outside of heroin, takes up various physical activities but fails miserably at each one. Sick Boy is still stuck in his rut of trying to get rich via one blatantly illegal method after another. Even Renton, having long kicked is habit, is still finding that his life isn’t necessarily a bed of roses.
There are plenty of laughs to offset the misery, the best being a scene in a sectarian Protestant club where Renton and Sick Boy decide to relieve punters of their credit cards. They are caught by the bouncer who asks them to play a little song, which they hilariously try to make up on the spot. While Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is as truly frightening as he was in the original, this fact is again often used to very funny effect.
Once more Boyle imbues a lot of visual creativity into his storytelling, veering from the surreal (a drug-high session shot upside-down while framed against a huge video screen, while some distinctively zoned-out music plays in the background) to the wistfully nostalgic as we see some authentically washed out film footage of the main characters as school children. At the same time there are some direct recreations of shots and scenes from the original that feel a bit too much like knowing winks at the audience. One foot chase sequence features Ewan McGregor grinning manically at a car driver after ending up on their bonnet, just like he did during the iconic opening sequence of the original. Yet again we see the guys standing side by side in long shot as they stare at a mountain. How many of those damn “camera angle from under a transparent table” shots do we need? They are legion here. We also get another variant on the “choose life” monologue from the original, a shortened version of which was featured in the trailer. While a lot of these moments are amusing they tend to distract from the central story.
Nonetheless, the film for the most part does work very well, in the main due to the heartfelt commitment to the characters by everyone involved. For me the finest performance was by Robert Carlyle. His Begbie is as insanely volatile as ever but he does manage to get a moment of touching honesty when his hard man veneer manages to slip, albeit for one very brief moment.
Choose to watch T2 Trainspotting at your local cinema.
Runtime: 117 mins
Dir: Danny Boyle
Script: John Hodge, from a novel by Irvine Welsh
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova, Shirley Henderson, Helly Macdonald, James Cosmo, Irvine Welsh