The original movie Trainspotting was an iconic 1996 British dark comedy written by John Hodge following a group of heroin addicts in the economically depressed Edinburgh area. At that time, there was nothing like it, particularly in how it showed the effects of addiction and poverty. The sequel, T2 Trainspotting is the reunion and while the trailer looks funny and interesting, I wondered if a sequel filmed twenty-one years later would be anywhere as good as the original. As it turned out, it was faithful to its predecessor and brings a solid resolution to the character’s stories.
At the end of the original, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has seized an opportunity to steal $16,000 pounds in heroin money from his friends, betraying them out of a desire to escape the cycle of violence he continually finds himself embroiled in when he is with them, only stopping to leave $4,000 with Daniel “Spuds” Murphy (Ewan Bremner) because Spuds has been kind to him. The sequel re-introduces us to the characters, giving the viewer insight into their current lives. Spuds goes to narcotic meetings and tries to stay clean but fails, unable to be with his wife and son. Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Johnny Lee Miller) is using his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkovato) in a blackmail scheme while running a pub during the day. Francis “Franco” Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison and has failed to get parole for kniving an inmate. Mark “Rentboy” Renton has transformed his heroin addiction into a running habit after spending the last twenty years in Amsterdam. At the beginning of the film, he returns to Edinburgh.
Although his reasons for returning are unclear at first, Mark’s return causes anger and chaos everywhere he goes. The money Mark gave Spuds caused his downward spiral; Spuds’ wasted life is blamed on Mark. Spuds is also angry because Mark disrupts his attempt at suicide. But Spuds forgives his friend quickly. Simon is angry at Mark’s betrayal and the theft of the money, the pair scrapping out across the floor of the pub Simon’s inherited from his aunt. While Mark is causing havoc in the lives of his friends, Franco is breaking out of prison and attempting to recruit his son into his life of crime, only to find out that his son has no desire to follow in his footsteps but wisely is choosing a career in hotel management.
Simon and Mark fall back into their friendship, Simon convincing Mark to help him renovate his aunt’s pub into a brothel/spa. Mark agrees, partly out of a desire to spend more time with Veronika, despite her being Simon’s girlfriend. We also learn that he’s had a heart attack and is getting divorced, leaving him seeking a return to the past out of sentiment and regret. The pair dance around friendship and betrayal, the viewer never sure which Simon and Mark will choose for certain until the end of the film. Spuds rages against his addiction, finding a way to channel his habit into writing stories. And Frank finds a way to let go of some of his past while he chases down Mark to pay him back for getting Frank sent to prison.
This film manages to capture some of the depth of the original, especially with the choice of music, each sound bite set up to match the mood of the scene. The music was a mix of old and new, wisely chosen to reflect the emotions of the story. Each beat of the film also reflects the original in both the actions of the characters and the way clips of the original movie are woven into new. Even if you aren’t familiar with Trainspotting, you would get a sense of the overall theme from these scenes. Best of all, you get a resolution for each of the characters and a sense of what happens when we revisit the sins of the past, when we regret the choices of our youth.
The acting and writing blends humor with regret well. There is a scene with Mark and Simon infiltrating a group of Protestants, using their scam artist ways to steal from the group and then having to improvise a song before escaping the group. Ironically, Mark and Simon point to the group holding onto the past as they themselves return to their old habits. And that seems to be the biggest point of the writing, the characters holding onto the past and old regrets instead of creating a new path for themselves.
The actors are all excellent in portraying middle aged men who haven’t left the past behind them while the director’s choice to not use makeup and show them with all their wrinkles and flaws is a wise one, adding to the flavor. I especially enjoyed Ewan McGregor’s performance. He played Renton as witty but slightly bitter over his life up until the end when he has resolved some of his regrets. I admit to being a bit of a Ewan McGregor junkie so no surprise that I liked his performance best but all of the actors were brilliant in their roles. Robert Carlyle plays Frank as both angry and insightful. Johnny Lee Miller is hilarious as Simon and Ewan Bremner does an excellent job showing the fate of an aging addict as Spuds.
What wasn’t so brilliant was the return to the past. While the film was solid and we are shown exactly what happens to aging addicts, it lacks the darkness and grittiness of the original for me. It does give me an emotionally satisfying story but never quite compares with the first movie. If you’re looking for that same style and want to revisit the characters, you will love the film but it is nowhere near as groundbreaking the second time around, not offering anything new to the themes the first movie developed.
If you loved Trainspotting, go check the sequel out, if for nothing more to find out what has happened to the characters you love. The music reflects the action of the film and the story is true to the original. If you like black comedy and Ewan McGregor, I also recommend it. It’s funny, the acting is above reproach, and there are some true moments of insight into addiction.
Rating: 4 stars
First there was an opportunity……then there was a betrayal.
Twenty years have gone by.
Much has changed but just as much remains the same.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to the only place he can ever call home.
They are waiting for him: Spud (Ewen Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and Begbie (Robert Carlyle).
Other old friends are waiting too: sorrow, loss, joy, vengeance, hatred, friendship, love, longing, fear, regret, diamorphine, self-destruction and mortal danger, they are all lined up to welcome him, ready to join the dance.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: John Hodge