American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Those who have ventured into the darker corners of addiction know that one of its few consolations, once the fun has worn off, is the camaraderie with fellow practitioners. Substance abuse sets the user apart from the daily lives of ordinary people. No matter how well the addict may seem to be functioning, there is always the secret agenda, the knowledge that the drug of choice is more important than the mundane business at hand, such as friends, family, jobs, play and sex.
Because no one can really understand that urgency as well as another addict, there is a shared humor, desperation and understanding among users. There is even a relief: Lies and evasions are unnecessary among friends who share the same needs. “Trainspotting” knows that truth in its very bones. The movie has been attacked as pro-drug and defended as anti-drug, but actually it is simply pragmatic. It knows that addiction leads to an unmanageable, exhausting, intensely uncomfortable daily routine, and it knows that only two things make it bearable: a supply of the drug of choice, and the understanding of fellow addicts.
Former alcoholics and drug abusers often report that they don't miss the substances nearly as much as the conditions under which they were used--the camaraderie of the true drinkers' bar, for example, where the standing joke is that the straight world just doesn't get it, doesn't understand that the disease is life and the treatment is another drink. The reason there is a fierce joy in “Trainspotting,” despite the appalling things that happen in it, is that it's basically about friends in need.
The movie, based on a popular novel by Irvine Welsh, is about a crowd of heroin addicts who run together in Edinburgh. The story is narrated by Renton (Ewan McGregor), who will, and does, dive into “the filthiest toilet in Scotland” in search of mislaid drugs. He introduces us to his friends, including Spud (Ewen Bremner), who confronts a job interview panel with a selection of their worst nightmares; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), whose theories about Sean Connery do not seem to flow from ever having seen his movies sober; Tommy (Kevin McKidd), who returns to drugs one time too many, and Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who brags about not using drugs but is a psychotic who throws beer mugs at bar patrons. What a lad, that Begbie.