TRISTAR PICTURES (2017)
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Anjela Nedyalkova
Choose returning to a seminal movie. Choose being twenty years older. Choose Edinburgh. Choose Irvine Welsh. Choose reconciling director and star. Choose feeling guilty about robbing your mates. Choose returning home to heal old wounds. Choose infamous music cues. Choose four dysfunctional lives. Choose George Best. Choose a cool website to review your movie. Choose Life.
Anyway, it amused us at the time. It still does now.
The band are back together twenty years after the ground-breaking success of Trainspotting, a movie about scagheads, drunks, sex, loud music, suppositories and an endless list of scuzziness but a movie that tapped into the zeitgeist of the hedonistic British scene at the time, one that resonated with a disillusioned society and has hung around ever since. At times, a sequel looked unlikely – Boyle and McGregor fell out for years, the cast ages weren’t appropriate and a general unwillingness to potentially ruin the charm of the original loomed – but as time moved on, the pieces fell into place and here we are – T2: Trainspotting.
Having made off with £16,000 from a heroin scam in 1996 (minus £4000), Renton (McGregor) returns to Edinburgh and the scene of the original movie to reconnect with old friends – seemingly out of guilt and a lack of life options. His first call in is to his childhood home, where his father softly informs him that his mother passed away peacefully. Then it’s on to reconnecting – firstly, Spud (Bremner) who after all this time is still a heroin addict and has given up on life – and it’s a good thing Renton arrives when he does. After that, a tense reunion with Sick Boy (Miller) at his Port Sunshine pub in Leith turns into a brawl (Sick Boy is disgusted at Renton’s past actions and his seemingly sorted new life). Sick Boy has ditched heroin for cocaine and now runs the pub and participates in blackmail sex schemes with his slinky Bulgarian girlfriend Veronika (Nedyalkova). In the aftermath of the brawl, they eventually make peace and begin rekindling friendship, committing crimes and fraudulently claiming a £100,000 EU Business Loan to transform the pub into a brothel.
Incarcerated for 25 years with no parole, Begbie (Carlyle) hatches a scheme to escape from prison – get willingly stabbed by another inmate. Nice. Upon fleeing his hospital bed, he returns to his wife Gail (Shirley Henderson) and estranged son Fergus (Kyle Fitzpatrick) before reconnecting with his old ways. A visit to Sick Boy’s pub reveals to him that Renton has returned – and Begbie wants revenge.
Danny Boyle returns to the characteristics that defined Trainspotting originally – the freeze frames, words floating on-screen, frantic camera angles, classic music cues, flights of fantasy and surrealism, and a boatload of C-bombs. The formula worked then and still retains its quality now, though the freeze frames are shorter this time around and the new music doesn’t hit off quite like the original. Born Slippy and Lust for Life make welcome and poignant returns, with new music from Wolf Alice and Young Fathers vying for attention with Queen and Frankie Goes to Hollywood this time around.
If the first film was about youth - the joys of highs (literally), lows and fucking around – then this movie is about growing old – middle-aged middling and the disappointments of it all – and how the lives of all four of our anti-heroes and linked and tangled by the past, providing the movie’s emotional beats, after all this time, no one is better off in life. Addiction, estranged children, failed businesses, prison – life hasn’t been kind and it could’ve maybe been different.
Since 1996, the cast has become Jedi Masters, snipers, Sherlock Holmes and Rumplestiltskin - McGregor’s star power doesn’t prevent him from getting merrily stuck into the piece, with Bremner as joyfully gormless as before. Miller returns to ask the question of why he isn’t given enough roles and Carlyle is terrifying as the unhinged psychopath Begbie. Everything feels similar, just with a bit more grey and world-weariness. Kelly Macdonald is given a small cameo which is a shame, as are the majority of the returning women with only Nedyalkova being a key cast member this time around.
The writing is solid and is as foul-mouthed and angry as before. McGregor gives us one last Choose Life rant, playfully updated for the modern Britain, and there is black comedy aplenty. Allusions to the past events are littered throughout to really connect the two movies without becoming overbearingly nostalgic. The cinematography is slicker this time around, losing some of the original’s urgency but there are some great shots of Edinburgh thrown in and a haunting shot of Renton’s silhouette taking his mother’s place at the family table.
T2 doesn’t fully capture the spirit of the original, but I’m not sure it was entirely meant to. The idea of forty-somethings being placed in the original movie's settings wouldn’t work. There are moments that seize the energy though, from Renton and Sick Boy’s Battle of the Boyne pub singalong to the wonderfully-shot toilet scene between Renton and Begbie and the homage to George Best. The magic is still there, but in a different sense now. The pacing at times is slightly erratic and T2 clocks in at over 30 minutes longer than its predecessor so loses some of the sharp storytelling.
So much changes, but in the end nothing really does is the movie’s final message and is a fitting statement about T2: Trainspotting. What could have gone disastrously wrong was handled with the right amount of nostalgia, poignancy, sharpness and direction by Danny Boyle and provides a fitting closure to a British classic.
August 3rd 2017