Film Review – T2 Trainspotting
“What is choose life?” The question, which is asked to Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), hits him unaware and leaves him thinking for a moment. Renton, an ex-heroine addict, has returned home after twenty years away. He takes his moment and then unleashes a stream-of-conscious, quick quip, monologue that mirrors while updating a similar monologue the character gave in Trainspotting, in 1996. The moment not only provides an instance of commentary, it rejuvenates, if only shortly, a sense of enthusiasm in a character seemingly drained of enthusiasm.
Twenty one years ago, Trainspotting marked an international rise in recognition for filmmaker Danny Boyle and helped define a generation’s moment in the waning years of the last millennia. The movie, was fast, funny and delirious with style and raw, vital energy. Now, all these years later Boyle, writer John Hodge and a cast of returning, familiar faces are back to revisit old stomping grounds, rekindle old friendships and spark wrath for sins not forgotten. Twenty years is a bit of time though and characters, as well as actors and filmmakers, age and with the years sometimes goes the sustained enthusiasm.
T2 Trainspotting follows Renton as he returns home to Edinburgh after having ripped off his friends post a major drug deal. His old pal Spud (Ewen Bremner) is happy to see him, still a junky and living again in the apartment he used to live in. But Simon, once known as “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller) still holds a grudge towards Renton and sets out with his own designs for betrayal. These days Simon owns a pub and spends his time partnered with Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) in a sex, blackmailing scheme but harbors ambitions for starting their own brothel. Simon needs money though and that’s where his plans with Renton comes in.
As motivations play out and nostalgia is inhabited, the three friends revisit old memories and the regrets that come with. It’s a more melancholy affair than the previous film. Renton looks worn out and tired and his current physical condition reflects that. Simon is mostly pathetic these days. With his youth gone and a lingering coke habit, he pretends his relationship with Veronika is anything but professional, and spends most of his time pouring beers. Spud meanwhile is coping with a divorce, a heroin addiction and has taken to writing stories of the group’s youthful adventures.
Like with its characters, the energy of the movie feels stagnant and in search of rejuvenation. Boyle’s hypertensive camera work, quick editing and use of montage is his film grammar, but here it comes off more as a persisting tick than a vital need to say something. That doesn’t mean this isn’t good. It actually is quite good. And for a movie about characters in search of, dare I say it, a lust for life (sorry), the style of missing urgency only helps to reinforce the given themes. It’s a strange experience that at once feels tired before it begins but also slowly builds to finding its new place in its new existence.
Dichotomous relationships get a double dose treatment when the local maniac and old friend Begbie (Robert Carlyle) breaks out of prison and returns home to take up life as a husband and father who seeks to teach his son in his criminal ways of providing for the family. Begbie’s son wants to go to college and become a hotel manager, which infuriates Begbie, leading him to bring his son into more criminal deeds. Things only get worse when Begbie receives word that Renton is back in the world, rekindling Begbie’s rage for revenge.
Renton has apparently long spent the money he stole from the group and is going through a divorce of his own which has led him back home, looking for friends. The real problematic issue arises when like Simon, Renton falls for Veronika. And then Veronika starts taking on a redemption of Spud as a sort-of personal project, ultimately centering all male activity around her, making her a beacon of salvation that of course will be upended by her newly-found sense of agency that’s derived from a “big score” that becomes possible later in the movie.
The climax unfortunately resorts to a setup typical of a suspense thriller, which Boyle knows how to do well, but still comes off out of place here. Despite its problems there are a lot of moments that work really well. Given its proximity to the time passed in the movie as well as in real life, there’s a feeling of something personal being infused on this by everyone returning. Any melancholy that’s drizzled in is certainly well earned, especially given the story of addicts facing their lives now that they have had lives to be held accountable for.