(Air Date: Week Of 7/24/96)
If I were to list even a fraction of the grim things that occur during the course of "Trainspotting", it wouldn't sound anything like much of a laugh. But neither did the bald plot of John Osborne's "Look back In Anger" or its protagonist Jimmy Porter. The spiritual descendant of 1956's Angry Young Man may well be Mark Renton, who lives, in 1996 fashion, by slipping in and out of Edinburgh's shooting galleries. "Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?" Renton asks no one in particular. Maybe US, sitting in a movie trance, watching him dive into the worst toilet in Scotland in search of opium suppositories. The sequence, like many others in Danny Boyle's hypnotic new film, drags us into squalor and gives us a glimpse of the euphoria on the other side.
But "Trainspotting" is more than a full-colour drugalogue for naive & foolish neophytes. It captures the flip side, too, the horrors of cold turkey, the self-deception of hanging out with your old mates while trying to kick the habit, the screwed-up drug deals that seem like such a great idea after you've had a free sample. The lethargy that has always been so intrinsic to every drug movie ever made (with the exception of 1916's "The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish") has been replaced here by John Hodge's hyperkinetic screenplay and by the fluidity of Boyle's direction.
If you try reading the original novel by Irvine Welsh, you're going to need more than a glossary, even if you see the far more lucid film adaptation first. If ever a yarn with thick Scottish dialects and obscure drug references screamed out for graphic visual context, it's this one. Acting by skinny Ewan McGregor (he's more chubby in the upcoming "Emma") is excellent and "Hackers'" Jonny Lee Miller is also first-rate as his larcenous crony, Sick Boy. Robert Carlyle is everybody's nightmare as the terrifying Begbie and more benign, if misguided, spirits are played by Ewan Bremner as Spud and Kevin McKidd as Tommy.
The undercurrents here are both wise and amoral, a heady mix for the Iggy Popheads who will flock to see "Trainspotting". Add the fact that Irvine Welsh only dabbled with heroin before writing his account in the early eighties and you have a tale that reveals the best and the worst of drug times, told by a tourist, and interpreted by the manic Scottish talent who reinvented the concept of a "Shallow Grave". "Trainspotting" opens nationally this week.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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