|Directed by:||Danny Boyle|
|Written by:||Irving Welsh, John Hodge|
|Cast:||Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremmer, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly MacDonald|
Not one of the most pleasant subject matters in the world (with its share of disgusting moments), but also one of the more stylized flicks from the 1990s, with a hipper than hip soundtrack, many top-notch performances, an original tale of heroin addicts in Scotland and yes…plenty of camera tricks to keep things upbeat and alive all the way through. I’m not sure if this film can be qualified as a “cult” movie per se, since it did enjoy its bit of success when it came out originally, but it’s definitely not for your every day viewer, with plenty of its “weirdness” certifying it as fun time viewing for gaggles of late night college dorm rooms across the country. It’s also got a little bit of that CLOCKWORK ORANGE feel (an homage scene paying tribute to that film’s Moloko milk bar spreads that love as well), utilizes some of GOODFELLAS’ style techniques (including the voice-over narration throughout, the use of freeze frames, etc…) and peppers its dialogue with a good chunka-hunka pop culture references (notably JAMES BOND). I also enjoyed pretty much all of its main characters, notably the very skinny Ewan McGregor (some of you might know him as Obi-Wan), who comes across as one of the more intelligent, clever and sympathetic junkies that you’d ever want to share a needle with. Toggle him onto Spud, the unintelligible goof, Sick Boy, the “cool” guy obsessed with Bond and Begbie, the craziest fuck this side of the nutball killer from DIRTY HARRY, and you’ve got yourself an interesting “gang” with whom to hang.
Begbie, played deliciously by Robert Carlyle was particularly fun to watch and listen to (I’m not sure if I understood half the stuff that he was saying, but I think I got the gist of most of it) since he always seemed to be “on the edge” of losing it. He also had a particular fondness for starting shit up, like when he tosses his empty beer mug over a railing and onto a women’s head below. Oopsie! As I mentioned though, the dialogue is quite difficult to wrap your ears around from time to time, so you really want to strain your drums whenever possible. I’ve noticed that I do understand more and more of what they say with repeated viewings (or after I’ve smoked a few J’s), so maybe that’s the way to go, although the story isn’t necessarily this film’s principal catch. It’s actually the characters, the visuals and the soundtrack, which a lot like Scorsese’s movies, tends to add a whole new dimension to the flick. And just like Eric Clapton’s “Lela” will forever bring Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS to mind whenever I hear it on the radio, Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life”, along with Lou Reed “A Perfect Day” are only two of the many memorable tunes which will always be connected to this British import.
But at the end of the day, you do have to remember that this movie is about drug addicts. Yes, there are plenty of “light” scenes, jokes here and there, and enjoyable tunes to keep things buzzin’, but there are also many very serious scenes in which characters are afflicted with AIDS, others have to deal with their drug withdrawal and plenty of fisticuffs as well (and I’m not just talking about the ones between me and my friends while watching the movie). A particular shot of what happens to a baby who spent too much time in the junkies’ apartment is also a very intense sight and not stomachable for everyone (as well as plenty of “shitty” situations—and yes, pun is intended!). This movie also taught me the word “shite”, which I’ve been overusing ever since, so thanks for that! In the end, the film only runs for about 90 minutes, moves quickly, introduces plenty of quirky characters, all of whom are played believably and with a little extra mustard, entertains us throughout, always gives us something to look or listen to, and ultimately, delivers a hopeful message. That’s right, boys and girls…choose life! Now who still wants to do drugs??
The coolest thing about this movie is the entire sequence of McGregor’s character Renton OD’ing in Mother Superior’s apartment. I believe that the whole scene lasts about five minutes and barely any dialogue is spoken through it. It starts off with Renton sticking a needle into his arm and then…whoosh, the Lou Reed “A Perfect Day” tune kicks in and the rest is all about wicked style shots from director Boyle, who slowly bottoms Renton through the actual floor, and gives us a very cool shot of his POV from the bottom up. We also see him being pulled out into the street and onto an ambulance, while the song continues to play in the background and McGregor’s eyes become ours. I believe that this scene really gives you a great sense of feeling both euphoric and claustrophobic at the same time. The subsequent scene of Renton at home “withdrawing” from the drugs is also very slick visually, but I guess one is enough for now.
Interesting tidbits about the film and its stars:
Boyle is obviously a major fan of director Martin Scorsese as he pays homage to the master in the disco scene with grand murals of both Travis Bickle and Iris on the walls. Played respectively by Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster, those two characters starred in one of Scorsese’s most respected films: TAXI DRIVER. Jonny Lee Miller, the dude who plays the character of “Sick Boy” in this film, married actress Angelina Jolie in 1995, but got a divorce in 1999. Being as his character continually referred to James Bond in this movie, it’s ironic that Miller’s real-life grandfather, actor Bernard Lee, actually played the character of M in early Bond movies. Irvine Welsh, the man who wrote the book on which the film is based, has a cameo in the film as the dealer from whom Renton buys the opium suppositories.
NOTE: This review was originally published in my 2002 book entitled "JoBlo.com presents...The 50 Coolest Movies of All-Time". Please note that these reviews are dated, and the book actually features my own PERSONAL list of faves from 1970-2000 or so.