Dir: Danny Boyle, 1996. Starring: Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner & Kelly Macdonald. Cult.

John Hodge’s brilliant screenplay, based on the cult novel by the same name written by Irvine Welsh, is the story of a group of young friends, drug addicts, and overall petty criminals from Edinburgh who play hard and fast. The plot is a maturation story about one of these needle lovers, "Renton” (McGregor), who begins to realize that his life could be so much more in normalcy.

The screenplay does a wonderful job of capturing the lifestyle, while not passing judgment on it. Through Renton’s colorful self-actualizing voiceover, we’re given the chance to look into the bare souls of the wild, wayward and lost.

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) directs one of his finest films with Trainspotting. He is able to capture true human emotions and dynamics within a frenzied sense of desperation and sorrow, washed over by the warm glow of heroin. He is careful not to whitewash or oversimplify a complex subject—that of overwhelming addiction.

Kave Quinn’s production design is an example of great locations being born of nearly no budget. The world feels real, gritty and filthier than one may like at times. But there is no sense of the artificial—it all feels like a place where junkies come and go at their doped up pleasure.

Brian Tufano’s cinematography is well focused, vibrant and stylish but never flashing. The same can be said for the extremely well-paced editing by Masahiro Hikakubo that provides one of finest uses of cutting to source music of any recent film.

Although usually overlooked, the music supervisors on this movie should be given a huge amount of credit. They assembled one of the single greatest film soundtracks in cinema history—finding a perfect blend of classic tracks to give Trainspotting a definitive feel and place within time.

As the anti-hero, “Mark Renton,” Ewan McGregor (Stay) exploded onto the international stage. Although a stealing, back-stabbing drug addict, McGregor plays the role with such undeniable likeability that you find yourself routing for him to make his way into a more promising life.

Ewen Bremner (Black Hawk Down) is wonderfully dense and kind-hearted as “Spud”—the group’s seemingly brain-damaged but overwhelmingly positive member. Bremner plays the character with such empathy that you really hope he makes it through the mess unscathed. Jonny Lee Miller (Melinda and Melinda) is devilishly amusing as the arrogant and self-righteous, “Sick Boy.” His long diatribes about the trajectory of Sean Connery’s career are some of the most entertaining “small-talk” in any recent film.

As the rage filled and adrenaline seeking “Begbie,” Robert Carlyle (28 Weeks Later) gives a character of small stature the fierceness of a rabid lion un-caged for the hunt. Kevin McKidd (HBO’s Rome) plays the tragic, “Tommy”—a straight-arrow clean-living athlete who, like all his peers, finally surrenders to the power of the needle.  Kelly MacDonald (No Country for Old Men) plays “Diane”—an overly mature teenager who falls for Renton, bringing many unneeded headaches into his daily life.

Great small turns are given by Peter Mullan as drug-peddling enabler, "Swanney,” known as “Mother Superior” due to the length of his habit. In addition, novelist Welsh plays “Mikey Forrester”—king of the wankers in their little niche of Scotland.

With Trainspotting, Boyle gives us one of the most visceral and unforgettable “anti-drug” movies to grace the silver screen. It is a film filled with great language, amazing music and some truly iconic imagery.


Trainspotting was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Feb 23, 2009 4:01pm
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