Well, I've just written an entire chapter of dissertation on it, so I feel a review is in order! Trainspotting, originally a novel by Irvine Welsh, is set in late 80s/early 90s Edinburgh and the narrative follows a group of heroin addicts and the pleasures and pitfalls of a life on junk. Straightaway, we're introduced to the main characters as the film kickstarts with a chase scene, accompanied by Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' and the infamous 'Choose Life' voiceover delivered by Ewan McGregor's Renton. What follows is a journey through addiction, relationships and friendships, with Renton eventually attempting to escape his past, when he moves to London and tries to live a 'respectable' life. But nothing's that simple, and he finds his previous lifestyle hard to escape...
The film often rattles along at the pace of an out of control train, with the pulsating soundtrack of Britpop and dance tracks, and the editing often reflects this. However, at times the pace is slowed, at points where the group's drug use rears its negative head.Ironically, the chase sequence from the beginning is featured later in the film - but in a starkly different context. On the second round, it follows a scene in which one of the junkies, Allison, finds her baby dead due to neglect. During the chase, the reckless and jaunty sounds of 'Lust for Life' are replaced by Blur's 'Sing', a much more downbeat song which, along with the context, completely changes the whole mood of the sequence. At the end, we see Renton and Spud caught, and Spud being given a jail sentence.
Parts of the film have elements of the surreal - particularly when we see Renton forced to go cold turkey by his parents. Lying in his childhood room, he begins to hallucinate, resulting in scenes that range from the disturbing to the darkly humorous - such as an imagined TV show where Dale Winton dangles the prospect that Renton may have contracted AIDS. This disjointedness is unnerving, and made even more so by the slightly too-bright visuals and pumping beats of the accompanying trance-style track (or, boof-boof music as your parents might describe it). Parts of the film often meander into the realms of bad taste, particularly in its subject matter and showing a dead baby, but within the tone of the film, it doesn't seem out of place (and I do love a good bit of bad taste cinema...).
The film features a cast of predominantly Scottish actors, many of which either had or went on to recieve acclaim for their roles. As Begbie, Robert Carlyle is intimidating and gives the impression that you'll never know what he'll do next. McGregor is indistinguishable from later roles as sappy poet Christian in 2001's Moulin Rouge and serious writer in 2010's The Ghost Writer, and his diverse career marks out his impressive acting abilities. Even if his character does get it on with a schoolgirl...
It's easy to see how Trainspotting made the BFI's Top 10 British films list and gained both critical and commercial acclaim. The soundtrack itself is impressive, featuring music from Pulp, Blur, Leftfield, and classics from Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, to name but a few. Although Trainspotting is often thought of as a 'drugs film', there's a lot more to the story than addiction. Relationships and friendships are foregrounded, and I'd argue them to be more relevant to the narrative than heroin. And although we see the negative consequences of drug use, the film doesn't preach at the audience about the effects. Seemingly, its a film aimed at an intelligent audience, and allows the viewer to come to their own conclusion with regards to meaning, showing the highs and the lows of drug consumption.
The tagline for Mendes' American Beauty (1999) reads '...look closer' - and that closer look is at the trappings of traditional expectations in a too-perfect American suburb. White picket fences, perfectly pruned gardens and polite chat with the neighbours - it looks like the families here have it all, including the Burnham family - Lester (Kevin Spacey), his wife Carolyn (Annete Bening) and daughter Jane (Thora Birch). But Lester's marriage is unfulfilling and fraught, and his relationship with awkward adolescent daughter Jane is rocky at best. However, after a cheerleading performance at a football game, he develops a perverted fascination with Jane's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari), represented in a somewhat surreal manner, with sequences showing a recurring motif of red rose petals - coming from her open jacket, and a night time fantasy of her bathing naked in them as they fall onto his pillow. He also starts to smoke marijuana with Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), son of new neighbour Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), an uptight ex-military man.
Meanwhile, Jane faces her own developing relationship with Ricky, who she initially brands a pervert after she sees him filming her, but gives a second chance. As they grow closer, their relationship grows darker, with a clear bond coming from their outsider status to the superficial world around them. Both actors give stunning performances, with intensity and teenage angst that hits the spot perfectly. And Wes Bentley is nice to look at (despite his character being a little on the wrong side of creepy), which is always a bonus.
The story is narrated by Lester in a depressingly frank, self-deprecating way (wanking in the shower being the 'high point' of his day). Bleak humour and dark comedy intersperse the constantly intensifying storyline, from Jim and his lover, Jim, and Frank Fitts' confused reaction when they drop round a welcome basket to Lester's amusing attempts to relive his youth in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The visuals are often striking too - the recurring motif of red is, if slightly cliched, atmospheric, closely linked to feelings of passion...and danger.
Spacey gives a subtle, layered performance as Lester, and does a great job of showing a middle-class man in the midst of a mid-life crisis, as he learns about himself and those around him. Bening's Carolyn is wonderfully all-American, with her determination to sell her latest house using her excessive pep and never-fading permagrin, but we see this begin to fall apart as she embarks on an affair with Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). And I've always been a big Thora Birch fan, and as the perfect dark, disturbed teenager she doesn't disappoint. The film has an excellent ensemble cast, all demonstrating the slow disintegration of the 'American Dream' - and exactly what effect it has on their mental states.
I could go into a Film Studies-style analysis here, but as it's a review I'll keep it short and sweet (and I feel like it's a film you need to see and work out your own personal interpretations of). American Beauty has various complex readings, about sex, freedom and the mental state of its characters. A story of rebellion, it takes a satirical look at American suburbia- where things may seem idyllic on the surface, but under the shallow depths of the perfectly manicured lawns, secrets and unspoken desires create a dark undercurrent.