In the aftermath of _Pulp Fiction_, much of the filmmaking of the 1990s thrived upon attempts to appear "edgy" within the constructs of independent films, or merely to provide empty shock value cliches. And no film ever came close to the sheer cleverness of Tarantino's masterpiece.
_Trainspotting_, however, somehow manages to take the excesses of the mid-90s and rise far, far above the cinematic cliches that it easily could have become. A film that tackles any hot-button social issue can, and usually does, simply become a didactic propaganda piece. Thankfully, _Trainspotting_ is vastly more intelligent in its edginess and its shock.
In order to appreciate _Trainspotting_ fully, the viewer must abandon any preconceptions about what defines truly great cinema, because this film defies convention at nearly every turn. And with the rapid pace of its plot, that's quite a bit of ground to cover.
Though a great deal of the picture's brilliance is derived from director Danny Boyle's consistent rejection of typical cinematic techniques, the most satisfying and _best_ aspect of _Trainspotting_ is that Boyle creates a film that is neither pro-drug or anti-drug. Instead, he maintains a rare objectivity throughout the film, depicting this fascinating array of complex, beautifully acted characters with an honesty that it seldom captured on film. And, given the life that each character lives, it's nearly incomprehensible that a director would refrain from influencing the viewer's impressions in any way, yet that's exactly what Boyle does.
The dialogue-- or at least what portions of the brogue-drenched dialogue American viewers will be able to comprehend-- is alternately hilarious, raw, and brutal. And Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle bring a remarkable compassion and depth to their portrayals of characters that could have easily lapsed into cliche.
Despite its sheer brilliance, _Trainspotting_ is not a film that's easy to watch. The viewer is bombarded with images that transcend visceral discomfort in their horror-- this movie contains two of the most graphic, horrifying scenes I've ever encountered. But, amazingly, none of these elements is used merely for shock value. Though the viewer will be mortified by some of the things that happen onscreen-- the well-documented dive into Scotland's most vile public toilet, for example-- these scenes all make _perfect sense_ within the context of a masterfully told story.
In order to notice all of the subtlety that also exists in _Trainspotting_, repeat viewings are necessary, primarily to reduce some of the most powerful shocks ever-so-slightly, though their effects are never lost entirely. Some of the images will likely haunt even the most cynical, jaded viewer for weeks.
RATING: 10 out of 10. Never patronizing and completely unpretentious, _Trainspotting_ is one of the most daring, unconventional films ever made. It inspires a level of discomfort rivaled by very few movies, because, even at its most graphic, Boyle never insults the viewer with mere shock tactics. Brilliantly acted, directed, and written, with a truly rare objectivity that allows each viewer to interpret its story on his/her own terms.