Revisiting Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud 20 years after we first met them on screen is a bittersweet affair, while Mel Gibson bludgeons his way through war drama Hacksaw Ridge, making insight and character development the first casualties
T2 Trainspotting (18) ***
Hacksaw Ridge (15) **
Sing (U) **
You’re a tourist in your own youth,” scowls Jonny Lee Miller’s Sick Boy at one point in Danny Boyle’s nostalgia courting T2 Trainspotting. It’s an accusation levelled at Ewan McGregor’s Renton, who has returned to Edinburgh to face the friends he ripped off 20 years earlier – but it’s also a line that could be levelled at anyone hoping this belated, much anticipated sequel could recapture the rush of the original when there’s no real chance it could or should. The characters, after all, are older, sadder, more pathetic, their youthful hedonism now replaced with a crushing realisation that without a meaningful skag habit (or outlet for their violent urges in Begbie’s case) their dripping-with-irony “choose life” mantra is now a depressing actuality. As their meaningless lives continue – against all odds – to stretch out cruelly before them, nostalgia has become their replacement drug of choice and Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge have been pretty canny in acknowledging this, using the loose framework of Irvine Welsh’s own follow-up novel, Porno, to craft a story about friendship and regret and the passage of time.
In its best moments, the film deploys an inventive range of flashbacks to the first film to show the extent to which nostalgia exerts its grip. It can be shocking because of how old the cast look compared to their 20-something selves (even the relatively well-preserved McGregor), but it can also be poignant in its evocation of the way memories can linger and haunt you, triggered by the streets you walk, the buildings you pass, the people you see and, by extension, the movies you love. And yet, at times that poignancy can also feel forced, with Boyle using Renton and co like junkie Prousts, desperately sniffing at madeleines to stir up gooey feelings about our own youthful selves in the hope we’ll give this a pass for old time’s sake.
There’s certainly an unshakable sense that all involved are having their cake and eating it, as if by frequently turning the film into a self-referential critique of its own making – courtesy of meta-flourishes that directly reference Welsh’s original stories and redundant cameos (hello Kelly Macdonald) that add nothing to the film – they’re somehow inuring themselves against legitimate criticism that this really isn’t good enough. Boyle’s frenetic, collage-like directing style – particularly as he re-introduces us to Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie and Spud amid a torrent of vice, vomit and violence – gives proceedings a trying-too-hard, going-through-the-motions feel. Not all the cast have the emotional range to make it cohere either. McGregor’s OK; it’s one of the better things he’s done in recent years, even if his terrible remix of the aforementioned “choose life” rant is one of the worst scenes in the film (he redeems himself in a great final shot). But Miller is really the only one able to connect his character’s present-day bitterness with the choices he’s made and the betrayals he’s experienced. Carlyle’s Begbie has become a comedy psycho, unstoppable, like the Terminator, but mostly played for laughs (save for his first delayed confrontation with Renton, he’s devoid of any real threat). Bremner’s hapless Spud is the most egregiously over-egged, his goofy comedy pratfalls making him seem like he’s trapped in a 1970s sitcom before a last act lurch into sentimentality has him spelling out the film’s wavering plot so Boyle can wrap things up neatly. In the end, it’s hard not to think of Sick Boy’s unifying theory of life from the first film: “At one point you’ve got it – and then you lose it.” In this sense T2 Trainspotting feels like a perfect sequel.
All the subtlety and nuance Mel Gibson brought to the multi-Oscar winning Braveheart is once again on display in his multi-Oscar nominated Second World War drama Hacksaw Ridge, a blunt, brutal, bloody mess of a movie that displays the full range of Gibson’s skills as a chronicler of eye-watering suffering on the battlefield and his propensity for corny mythmaking off it. Based on the true story of Desmond Doss, an American conscientious objector whose religious beliefs and troubled upbringing set him on a righteous path of non-violence at a time when young men eagerly signed up to serve their country, the film casts Andrew Garfield in the lead and spends the first half turning him into a pure-of-heart, grinning, aw-shucks simpleton, before reconfiguring him as brave, battle-hardened saviour whose faith gives him superhero-like courage and strength in the face of unimaginable carnage. Like a cross between his performances in Silence and Spider-Man, Garfield is too constrained by Gibson’s heavy-handed approach to make Doss feel in anyway believable; his director’s admirable insistence on verisimilitude when it comes to depicting the horrors of war sadly nowhere apparent in the film’s presentation of Doss’s domestic life or his interactions with his fellow soldiers. Like a lot of war movies – even the best ones – there’s no room to humanise the enemy either, so Gibson presents the Japanese troops fighting to protect their titular Okinawa-based strategic stronghold the way the American characters view them: as an unstoppable wave of zombie-esque marauders who don’t value human life. More troubling is the implication that God won the war. Gibson’s hagiographic approach leaves no room for doubt, although ironically, his use over the end credits of documentary interviews with the real Doss (recounting his own memories of scenes we’ve just watched) reflects a lack of faith in the film’s ability to convince us of its hero’s beliefs through drama alone.
Sing marks the first animated feature for British director Garth Jennings, who made the lovely Son of Rambow and the flawed but interesting Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Alas, his hitherto leftfield sensibilities don’t gel particularly well with this very Hollywood tale of following your dreams. Revolving around a failing musical impresario (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) convening a talent contest in a desperate bid to save his theatre from closure, the put-on-a-show plot is a bit too reminiscent of the 2011 Muppets reboot and, despite an A-list cast of talented vocalists (Scarlet Johansson, Reece Witherspoon and Jennifer Hudson among them), it’s got all the personality of an X-Factor finale. ■