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Thursday, April 13, 2017 02:14 pm

Boyle Delivers Worthy "Trainspotting" Sequel

If ever there was a movie that captured the Zeitgiest of the time in which it was made, it was Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. An indie sensation when it was released in 1996, the film was not simply a shot of much needed adrenaline for the British film industry, but a spot on portrayal of the disenfranchised youth of the country, a generation that had little hope thanks to a faltering economy.  While its main characters were not indicative of all late teens of that era, their search to escape their lives was not uncommon.  That they chose to do so through a heroin haze only makes their situation more tragic.

Renton (Ewan McGregor) finds himself still on the run in T2 Trainspotting.
Courtesy Sony Pictures

Boyle knows full well that the follow-up to his cult classic – T2 Trainspotting- couldn’t have the same impact of its predecessor.  Part of the power of the first film was that it caught us unawares as to its raw power, unbridled energy and cinematic inventiveness. Trying to catch lightening in a bottle is a fool’s game, so the filmmaker approaches this long gestating sequel with a sense of melancholy, and while he revisits many of the familiar haunts from the first film, these stops are made with a sense of sadness, as our returning to them only underscores the inherent nature of addiction and the manner in which it traps those in its throes.

20 years has passed since Renton (Ewan McGregor) left his mates high and dry, stealing a big payday they’d scored in a major heroin sale. However, circumstances have arisen that lead him back to Edinburgh, where he reconnects with his old mates in attempt to make amends.  He finds that nothing much has changed where they’re concerned.  Simon (Johnny Lee Miller) blackmails civic officials with the help of Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), a woman with a dubious background; Spud (Ewan Bremner) has managed to alienate his wife and son, still a slave to his heroin addiction; and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is rotting away in jail…that is until he makes a desperate, foolhardy escape.

Renton, Simon and Veronica (Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller & Anjela Nedyalkova) celebrate the birth of a dodgy plan in T2 Trainspotting.
Courtesy Sony Pictures

These three are all less than thrilled to see Renton, yet once their initial anger subsides, he, Simon and Spud embark on a scheme to garner government funds to revitalize a historic pub, convincing the powers that be that this will be the first step towards bringing new life to the area.  That they actually want to use the money to open up a brothel comes as no surprise.

The brand of black comedy that was so distinctive in the first film remains here and provides many awkward, cringe-worthy laughs that are in keeping with the ridiculous, self-destructive behavior of its principal characters.  We may laugh at their outlandishness but Doyle and screenwriter John Hodge – adapting Irvine Welsh’s novel Porno- never allows us to forget the tragic underpinning of their actions. That they continue to visit their old haunts, flaunt social norms and associate with one another serves to underscore the restrictive nature of their addictive nature.  Their sense of self-loathing will control them until their dying days, their lives nothing more than a constant battle on a treadmill to nowhere.

Sick Boy, Renton and Simon (Ewan Bremner, Ewan McGregor & Johnny Lee Miller) enjoy a quiet, contemplative moment in T2 Trainspotting.
Courtesy Sony Pictures

The four leads don’t miss a beat where picking up their characters 20 years later is concerned.  Though we’ve seen McGregor, Miller, Carlyle and Bemner in other films, these are the roles that remain in the viewer’s memory.  All is as it was before with Renton, Simon, Begbie and Spud, but the years of abuse is starting to take its toll with the actors subtly conveying a sense of weariness that’s ultimately poignant.

That one of the quartet appears to have a way of building a new life at the end of T2 Trainspotting, doesn’t feel like a cheap narrative twist, but rather a well-earned deliverance.  The circular nature used to tie up all that started 20 years ago and the sense of hope it provides is honest, much like this worthy follow up.

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