|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 25 March 1998|
If you want a working definition of the phrase "hit the ground running," you need look no further than Chapter Two, the opening of 'Trainspotting.' The image of four young junkies hurtling down an Edinburgh, Scotland street fleeing pursuit is accompanied by a prompt blast of hard rock that will give your audio system something fierce to play with.
'Trainspotting' is a scathingly funny, occasionally horrific look at a group of Scottish heroin addicts through the eyes of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor); our tour guide through his own little corner of hell. Renton is realistic about the dangers of heroin, but he asserts that being a junkie with a junkie's worries (when the next high will come, etc.) is infinitely preferable to choosing life, with all its inherent hassles. After a couple of deaths, though, Renton decides something has to change.
Adapted from Irvine Welsh's novel by screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle, 'Trainspotting' does an excellent job of putting us inside Renton's head, relaying explanation and illustration, not excuses. The title is U.K. slang for the recreational activity of going to a train station and taking notes on the trains that come and go; here it is an analogy for the obsessive, unproductive existences of Renton and his fellows. Renton is trenchant, amusing, and made charismatic by McGregor's performance, but under no circumstances would we want to be in his shoes. In Chapter 4, a visit to "the worst toilet in Scotland" demonstrates the depth of Renton's habit with a mixture of eye-widening hilarity, inventiveness and retch-inducing incident.
The DVD faithfully reproduces the vivid reds, greens and blues of the feature version. A sequence in Chapter 9, with a flirting couple turned blue by streetlights against a background of throbbing scarlet, shows the colors off to especially good advantage. It's also worth noting that, no, your player hasn't gone haywire in Chapter 8: the dance music is so loud and the Scots' accents so thick that the filmmakers decided subtitled translations would be a good idea.
Fans of "The Full Monty" may be intrigued to see its star Robert Carlyle here, scary as hell as Renton's sociopathic chum Begbie. Overall, 'Trainspotting' provides a version of "just say no" logic that would never have occurred to Nancy Reagan. Nobody would willingly get themselves into Renton's plight, but the inventiveness and humor here makes us fascinated spectators, rooting for the characters to emerge alive from their chaotic chemical wasteland. It's nervy, engrossing filmmaking, with scenes that don't leave the memory.