A film that shows what makes heroin addictive without glorifying it, Trainspotting was one of the most popular and controversial British films of the 1990s. Exploding with morbid wit, kinetic energy, and fatalistic insight, it jolted critics and audiences regardless of whether or not they actually liked it. A twisting, riff-filled, almost plot-free story, Irvine Welsh's novel was almost unfilmable in its original form. The screen adaptation successfully streamlined Welsh's ungainly material into a slick social commentary that smoothed the book's rough edges without losing its vitriol and insight. Trainspotting is not merely about drug addiction, but about the relationship between wasted youth and the spiritually bankrupt society that has alienated them. Another of the film's great strengths was its ensemble casting of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller, and Ewen Bremner. McGregor and Carlyle, in particular, turned in star-making performances as Renton, the film's affable narrator, and Begbie, its resident psychotic drunk. Their work, and that of their co-stars, makes for such compulsively enjoyable viewing that, fittingly enough, you'll have a hard time coming down afterwards.
Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), a young man with few prospects and fewer ambitions, lives in economically depressed Edinburgh. Like most of his friends, Renton is a heroin addict who loves the drug's blissful nothingness; financing his habit also provides excitement and challenges that his life otherwise lacks. Renton's two best friends are also junkies: Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), a snappy dresser obsessed with James Bond, and Spud (Ewan Bremner), a guileless nerd who suggests Pee Wee Herman's debauched cousin. Renton and his pals also hang out with Begbie (Robert Carlyle), a borderline psychotic who loathes junkies even though he drinks like a fish. After one too many brushes with the law, Renton kicks heroin and moves to London, where he finds a job, a flat, and something close to peace of mind. However, Sick Boy, Begbie, and Spud all arrive at his doorstep on the trail of a big score, leading Renton back into drugs and crime.
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