Trainspotting was a breakthrough film back in 1996. An edgy, eccentric blend of debauchery and rebellion set to one of the best British rock soundtracks ever made. Twenty years later, the original director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later…) and screenwriter John Hodge assemble the same set of Scottish miscreants and make them deal with the aftermath of a betrayal that affected all their lives.
In the ‘90s film, Mark (Ewan McGregor) and Simone, aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), were best friends since childhood. In their mid-twenties, they hung out with the tall skinny dullard Daniel “Spud” Murphy (Ewen Bremner) and the short, violent and temperamental Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle). The four, and other comrades, had one thing in common: heroin addiction. It united them. Broke them apart. Caused death and destruction. Their depraved indifference to life and traditional mores ended with a dope deal gone bad. Mark, who flirted with sobriety, ran off with £12,000 pounds. He left Spud £4,000, which went right into his arm. Simone got nothing. Franco got a jail sentence and a grudge against Mark that was eating him alive.
In 2017, nearing middle age, Mark’s yuppyish job at a Dutch software company ends. He returns to the scene of the crime, Edinburg. These days, Simone, a cokehead, is in love with a prostitute named Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). The couple makes money by blackmailing clients, “Johns,” who are secretly videotaped as they bed Veronika, who dresses up as a dominatrix.
Spud is a bit of a depressed loner. In fact, Mark is banging at the door of his flat just as his dejected friend is attempting suicide. Mark saves his life and Spud’s sour response is: “You ruined my life, and my death.” Meanwhile, the fiercely vindictive Franco is plotting an escape from jail. The reunion of these four is fraught with more anger, deceit, maleficence, apologies and ill will than a feud between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
It’s a hard task recapturing the dark humor and light spirits that made the original movie so shocking yet endearing. This script puts Mark and Simon on a mission to build a spa (brothel) that Veronika can operate. Mark, whose libido knows no bounds, flirts with Veronika, knowing that Simon loves her. But that’s Mark’s M.O: he can’t be trusted with a friend’s girlfriend. The character that gets the best facelift is Spud, who dares to dream big and finds an ounce of courage, when he had none in the first film. Franco, who makes a junkyard dog look like a prince, is so mean and violent he alienates himself from his family and goes after Mark with a sheer vengeance.
Boyle has a fun way with the footage. He will stop it cold. Shoot scenes at odd angles (cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire). Cut in flashbacks (editor Jon Harris, Kingsman: The Secret Service). Add colorful and textured dreamy images over scenes (production design Patrick Rolfe and Mark Tildesley; art direction Patrick Rolfe). It is a pleasure to watch him weave his artistic magic. And though the soundtrack doesn’t boast a song as catchy as the first movie’s hit tune “Lust for Life,” some of the kinetic music has a throbbing beat.
Boyle’s innovation helps greatly as you realize that this script is not as fresh as the 1996 one, which was based on a novel by Irvine Welsh. That screenplay treaded new territory that audiences couldn’t fathom: Piss poor Scottish adolescents, living in and around wealth and middle-class amenities, unable to hold down a nine-to-five and relegated to a parallel world. Their degeneracy and irresponsibility had no limits, and they were so oblivious to reality that a baby died while in their custody. That stream of decadence was a jolt to the senses. Nothing in this film is quite as shocking. But then again, what could be?
McGregor, Miller, Bremmer and Carlyle slip into their old characters, friendships, jealousies and rivalries comfortably — like they were trying on a pair of old faded, torn jeans that still fit or dusting off old drug paraphernalia. At one point Veronika points out to Mark “You’re a tourist in your own youth.” That’s the way it feels watching these graying, saggy-eyed fortysomethings trying to get their mojo back. They can’t relive their lives, but they can die trying.
In the end, there is something woefully nostalgic about watching McGregor, Miller, Bremner and Carlyle running down the cobblestone streets of Edinburg with an urgency and abandonment that is similar to the chaos they wreaked in Trainspotting.
The guys are a few paces slower, and almost as reckless. Just like T2.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.