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‘T2 Trainspotting’ (review)

Produced by Bernard Bellew, Danny Boyle,
Christian Colson, Andrew Macdonald
Screenplay by John Hodge
Based on Trainspotting and Porno
by Irvine Welsh
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner,
Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle

 

“Choose life.
Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.
Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently.
And choose watching history repeat itself.
Choose your future.”

Danny Boyle returns 20 years later to Edinburgh, Scotland for a sequel to the highly successful Trainspotting film about addiction and friendship.

The film reunites Renton (Ewen McGregor) with Simon aka Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), the betrayed Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and the smack-obsessed Spud (Ewen Bremner) to great effect, portraying the void felt by the absence and passage of time.

T2 seeks to answer the question of what happened to the £16,000 Renton took at the end of the first movie 20 years on as the hook, but also looks to delve into the minds of these poor addicted souls and rarely offers any predictable redemption. Stacked up against the original film, this might not be as deep or as memorable to the pop culture lexicon as Trainspotting became, but T2 is a great companion to the original with surprising call backs, a driving soundtrack and shows what kind of men the boys have become.

This reviewer is writing this under conditions not dissimilar to Mark Renton’s attempts to kick the habit in the first film. Flu-like conditions have forces massive amounts of soup into my system, and fever dreams of my worst possible nightmares seem tangible and real. Renton returns home to see his father in his dotage, his mother has passed, echoing the scene of being admonished at his parent’s kitchen table.

Cutaways to the first movie are injected into the film, showing McGregor and Miller looking very young. This may reference chasing that first high, though drugs and meditation never work that way. You can try a lifetime and higher dosage to get to that point again, but you will never ever get there.

Spud is still an active junkie, separated from his partner Gail (Shirley Henderson) and his son Fergus. Renton checks on him first when he returns to Leith from Amsterdam. Here is the first bit of feeling like you are in a Danny Boyle film. Spud’s botched suicide attempt is filmed as fantasy and reality cut together. Renton is able to save Spud but not without some disgusting and shocking visuals.

Begbie has been incarcerated for years, but somehow manages an escape. When he finally meets up with Simon (Sick Boy) he’s told of Renton’s return and starts to plot his revenge on the betrayal of the £16,000. Simon is not exactly forgiving of his best mate Renton’s absence with the cash either, and included Begbie on a longer con to get back at Rents.

Simon has inherited his aunt’s pub Port Sunshine in Leith by the train tracks. He doesn’t make much there, and is a criminal at heart so he has resorted to blackmailing rich members of the community with sex tapes made in cahoots with his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova). Simon’s also developed quite a heavy cocaine addiction, botching his most recent blackmail attempt.

Veronika is a young girl from Bulgaria, and our anchor to the modern day. She gets wrapped up in Sick Boy and Renton’s schemes and the three of them look to convert Port Sunshine into a brothel, legitimizing the failed strap-on business plan of blackmail. She’s an ally but also serves to drive more of a wedge between the two best buddies.

Renton returns to Leith clean and happy, and after saving Spud, he offers to save Spud from himself, urging him to be addicted to something else, and the remodel of the pub occupies that itch.

The soundtrack is glorious in it’s callbacks to Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ given new life by a remix by The Prodigy, while including new talent such as Wolf Alice and dipping into the Trainspotting vinyl collection for nostalgic hits from The Clash and Queen. American audiences are introduced to comedy hip-hop duo The Rubberbandits as their video for ‘Dad’s Best Friend’ takes over Simon’s gigantic television screen in his apartment and Renton, like a man 20 years displaced asks “What is this?”. The apartment is perhaps just a minor upgrade from the drug den where we first meet Spud melting into the carpet and den leader Mother Superior. Veronika refuses to stay over because it is messy. Renton comforts Simon by insisting the flat is just ‘masculine’.

T2 doesn’t beat you over the head with, “Look at Renton, he jogs now, he’s cleaned up and is returning home”. No, this movie shows you how difficult it is for people to really change. Some bonds are lifetime bonds, and sometimes betrayal can play out with a long game and allies are thick as thieves, except when it doesn’t suit them. While loosely based on Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting sequel Porno, the movie itself is written by Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge drawing from both books and the original movie, steering away from a strict Porno adaptation.

A criticism I have of the storytelling was inserting the trope of having a main character chronicle the adventures of the boys, to be collected and read someday. Perhaps it seemed like an unnecessary trope or crutch, but I’d like to see if it rubs me the wrong way on a second viewing.

T2 is unique by the nature of the timing between the sequel and original, closer to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood than anything else in modern film. This is a deeply satisfying observation on aging and relationships, a great second volume to a revered piece of cinema. For Boyle, it rescues him from the criticism of Steve Jobs, but also is a unique opportunity to revisit without rebooting. This doesn’t achieve the 5-star greatness of Trainspotting, but it doesn’t have to. It gets you close enough to the edge that you can stand and look down and stop yourself from falling over.

 

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