Movie Review: Choose ‘T2 Trainspotting’

Mark and the boys are back in town – 20 years later.

‘T2 Trainspotting’ (photo credit: SONY PICTURES RELEASING GAMBH)
‘T2 Trainspotting’
Hebrew title: Trainspotting 2
Directed by Danny Boyle
With Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Robert Carlyle, Johnny Lee Miller
Running time: 117 minutes
Rating: R (for drug use, language throughout, strong sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence)
The biggest surprise in Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting, the sequel to his 1996 Trainspotting, is that the four main characters, all of them either heroin addicts, violent criminals or a combination of the two, are still alive and looking remarkably well.
This engaging film, while lacking the audacity, shock value and insane flights of imagination of the first film, is nevertheless rich in black humor, social commentary and bodily fluids that are not blood, sweat or tears.
The movie, which was shown out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival last week, presents a world that has changed, while its slightly bewildered anti-heroes seem to wish that time would stand still. Their lives in the original movie, rough as they were, seem like the good old days to them now. They are older and even a bit wiser, but whatever they have learned in the past two decades doesn’t make it any easier for them to navigate this Digital Age.
While Trainspotting opened with Mark (Ewan McGregor) running from store detectives, at the beginning of the new film he’s running but going nowhere: He’s on a treadmill at a health club in Amsterdam. After he stole the 16,000 pounds he and his friends made on a drug deal at the end of the first film, he headed off to Amsterdam, where he stopped taking heroin and has been working in something called stock management solutions – just the kind of job he mocked in the famous Choose Life monologue from the original film. After he collapses – he has suffered some kind of heart attack – he returns home to Edinburgh, where he has just missed his mother’s funeral (an echo of James Joyce’s Ulysses). But this isn’t the Edinburgh he remembers. At the airport, he is welcomed by pretty girls in plaid miniskirts. “Where are you from?” he asks one of them. “Slovenia,” she replies.
His father, however, has kept his room, with its train-patterned wallpaper, exactly as it was. But he leaves almost as soon as he gets home and goes looking for his old friends. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller, who plays Holmes on the TV series Elementary), never really a heroin addict, has switched to cocaine and is devoting his sociopath personality to turning his aunt’s pub, which he inherited, into a brothel. He has a much younger Bulgarian girlfriend, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova, a distinctive beauty who starred in Bulgarian Rhapsody), a prostitute, who helps him work low-level blackmail scams. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) breaks out of prison and turns right back to crime, trying to enlist his grown son in his schemes, and is frustrated that the boy would rather go to college. Spud (Ewen Bremner) kicked heroin, married his girlfriend and had a child, only to return to the drug when he loses his job.
There’s a bit of that old ultraviolence, to quote A Clockwork Orange, when Sick Boy and Begbie express their anger at Mark for ripping them off all those years ago.
But Sick Boy, who always has an instinct for new scams, figures out that they can get an EU grant for refurbishing Sick Boy’s pub. That an EU grant has replaced a drug deal as the way to get easy money is an example of the movie’s wit. Another is the updated Choose Life speech, where Mark says, “Choose life Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.” But as up to date as his monologue is, Mark and all the others are very much stuck in the past. “Where I come from, the past is something you forget. But with you, it’s all you talk about,” complains Veronika. Spud, standing in for Irvine Welsh, who wrote the original novel on which the first movie was based, chronicles their heyday in stories that find an audience.
The soundtrack, which combines oldies like Blondie’s “Dreaming” with hip-hop music, is again an integral part of the film, as it was in the first movie.
While there are moments that fall flat – some of the brawls go on way too long – it is fun to see where the guys have landed.
Boyle, who made Slumdog Millionaire, proves he is still a master at finding humor and life in the grimmest spots.