Long before collecting an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, British director Danny Boyle cut his moviemaking teeth with this raw portrait of young heroin addicts in Edinburgh. To be fair, Boyle already had some experience under his belt before tackling the 1996 film version of Irvine Welsh's popular novel; he had previously directed several TV series, including Inspector Morse, and attained some fame as director of the cult hit Shallow Grave. But Trainspotting was a huge hit in the United Kingdom, which put Boyle into the movie big leagues.
As in the book, the movie's central figure is Mark Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, an unrepentant smack addict and semi-role-model for disaffected Scottish youth. Renton's "so-called mates" include Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller, a.k.a. Eli Stone), a thief and part-time pimp; dimwitted Spud (Ewen Bremner); and the charmingly violent sociopath known as Begbie (Robert Carlyle) - oddly enough, the only character not hooked on heroin.
The plotline follows Renton's on-and-off love affair with drugs, thereby allowing Boyle to exercise his bent for arresting visual tableaus of music-video length; the scene of Renton going cold turkey - replete with a crawling baby and game-show hallucinations - is a surrealist gem.
Veering between funny (Begbie picks up a cross-dresser) and terrifying (watch Begbie's response to Renton teasing him for picking up said cross-dresser), the story weaves in and out of the motley group's life for a year or so, while Boyle slyly works in scathing commentary on modern capitalism and consumerism.
In the end, the characters appear so desperate, and life in Edinburgh so grim, that you can't really blame them for becoming junkies. "There are no reasons," says Renton in his running narrative voiceover. "Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"
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