SXSW Movie Review: ‘T2 TRAINSPOTTING’ – the past hurts when you’re not on smack


James Cole Clay // Film Critic

Rated R, 117 minutes.
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle

Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting is film where reckless abandon is the primary concern. They lived in the now and nothing else matters. Without a cause, the junkies’ days are filled with looking for a score, spinning vinyl records and introducing the 90s indie-film scene to Scotland and all of its idiosyncratic moments. The film was a benchmark for the cinema, and Boyle’s mannered yet frantic style has since taken him to great heights.

Its cast – led by Ewan McGregor as Mark Renton, Johnny Lee Miller as Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson, Ewen Bremner as Daniel “Spud” Murphy and Robert Carlyle as Franco Begbie – exercised the lovable side of the United Kingdom’s first order of degenerates in a way that was cautionary, hilarious and sympathetic. Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge connected us to this group of misfit junkies through flourishes of whacky hijinks that bordered a lunacy that never seemed quite real.

T2 Trainspotting is a sequel that had been long in the works, but we never knew if the band would get back together for a victory tour. Plus, would the sequel have anything poignant to say about the 21st Century?

As it turns out, while T2 isn’t as tightly wound as its predecessor, Boyle is still a visually taught filmmaker (collaborating with long time DP Anthony Dod Mantle). For a film that doesn’t fully capture the moment that we all shared in 1996, T2 finds its footing gracefully while stumbling at times to earnestly wear its heart on its sleeve.

Boyle and Hodge feel embarrassed to fully embrace nostalgia, with short clips from the original littered throughout the film. Each clip allows the film to breathe and keep flowing while paying homage to the roots from which they came. In Edinburgh, Scotland pride comes first and keeping home close to the chest is the most important characteristic a man can have.

Johnny Lee Miller and Ewan McGregor. Courtesy of TriStar Pictures.

Hodge’s characters are so caught up in “remember when” that the film ridicules them for never being able to look forward. These sentiments work, though, sometimes there’s a part of these four lads that are ashamed of their past but long to embrace those moments of youthful rebellion, even if it means slipping back into old habits. These two films were never fully about the effects of heroine usage, but the pitfalls of society that draw wayward youth into a life of despondency.

Renton and the boys are always searching for something. In their 20s they thought the future had greener pastures, yet in their 40s they’ve realized it’s impossible for them to change. No matter how far you run away with a bag full of money and an impossible dream, there you are. You can’t run from the past, and in the case of these blokes, the future seems bleaker than ever. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

Luckily, T2 Trainspotting isn’t all doom and gloom. Boyle brings a child-like charm that bubbles over like fizzy water. It’s easy to see that the crew is having a good time bringing this story back to the screen. Beating the suffocating grasp of smack doesn’t mean a better life, it just means they will constantly be running from a ghost. At least they have one another.

Grade: B

T2 TRAINSPOTTING opens March 24.

About author

James C. Clay

James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.