Let’s face it, Danny Boyle doesn’t make bad movies. Every single one that his name has been attached to has been worthy of your time and deserved any success that came its way. It was his second as director, Trainspotting, that sent him on a roll. Its momentum helped create a career in Hollywood most modern movie makers can’t begin to rival. 2017 is the year he returns to the setting of a timeless piece of cinema.
In a perfect world, my first novel will be adapted by Boyle and Manchester would have its iconic movie (we did grow up on the same streets, so it’s not that far-fetched). It’s the dream choice because Boyle understands the drive of a story, then delivers a visual experience that goes beyond the vision of its creator. Irvine Welsh is a talented author, no doubt, but Trainspotting elevated his novel to heights he couldn’t have envisioned.
That was aided by the John Hodge screenplay and determination of producer Andrew Macdonald. Back in the nineties it was Boyle that had to convince Welsh a movie was a good idea. Years later it is the director in the hot seat calling the shots but it’s warming to know he wanted to make a sequel. It is something he actively sought, waiting merely for the actors to age accordingly.
The stars have aligned (and reassembled) to bring back the core characters from the original. Ewan McGregor’s “Rent Boy” has been missing for twenty years, as expected after stealing £16,000 from madman Begbie. Robert Carlyle was a scene stealer back in the first film (remember that glass chucking moment?) and his new Begbie is just as intense. But back then it was mindless, after twenty years in prison, it’s pure focus.
He escapes, and the lack of police follow-up is something we will just have to accept, and attempts to resume life. It’s here we get some laughs. Trainspotting was a black comedy at times, the laughs here are lighter and directly played for.
Sick Boy, or Simon, is now putting more coke up his nose than Renton put heroin in his arms first time around. He’s trying to run scams and wants to open a brothel to keep his girlfriend happy. Yep, the Edinburgh they inhabit still has its murky sides.
Ewen Bremner’s Spud is the final member of the quartet and plays a larger role than last time. He is still a heroin addict, estranged from his partner and child and is suicidal. The unexpected arrival of Renton gives his life a new direction.
For a time, the movie’s direction, while new, isn’t ground-breaking. It openly reminisces over famous scenes from the original. This trip down memory lane would be pure nostalgia in the hands of any other movie maker, and would be crude self-awareness – not unlike the last series of This Is England – if it weren’t for Boyle’s ability to bottle a mood a make everything feel fresh.
This talent is aided by a cast better equipped to deliver the vision this time around. They have all grown as actors. What the script lacks in depth, they fill out with more meaningful performances.
There was no point trying to replicate Trainspotting, that time has passed, the characters inhabit different bodies. But it would be soulless not to have them look back at key events after being separated for two decades. The soundtrack aides this natural introspection with a hint of familiar themes with new vibes laid over.
There are times the suspension of disbelief is stretched as coincidences and situations appear to drive us to a forced conclusion. That’s a nod to the power of the first film, perhaps there was no real story to tell after that one? But that’s not to say it is poor, far from it. Certain Boyle hallmarks displayed in Trance, and novel use of lighting in the finale, give this film the contemporary nod that separates if from its grimy predecessor.
Easily a four-star film, maybe as it settles it’ll take its place alongside the first. And in a few decades’ time, there’ll be no complaints if Boyle wants to visit these characters again.