Category: Danny Boyle

Steve Jobs (2015)

Michael Fassbender excels in Danny Boyle’s superb Sorkin scripted biopic Steve Jobs

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Kate Winslet (Joanna Hoffman), Seth Rogan (Steve Wozniak), Jeff Daniels (John Sculley), Katherine Waterston (Chrisann Brennan), Michael Stuhlbarg (Andy Hertzfield), Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa Brennan aged 19), Makenzie Moss (Lisa Brennan, aged 5), Ripley Sobo (Lisa Brennan, aged 9), Sarah Snook (Andy Cunningham)

The art of movie biography shouldn’t be slavishly covering every second of the subject’s life. It should be capturing their essence. Steve Jobs does exactly that, a superb distillation of its subject’s life and personality through focusing on the preparation for three vital project launches: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998, each playing out in real time. The contrasting (and continuing) clashes and tensions at each event – personal and professional – tells us more about the man and his impact than a cradle-to-grave biopic ever could.

It also helps that Steve Jobs has an electric script from Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin approached the project not like a film, but as a classic three-Act play. Steve Jobs is an explosion where all the special effects are the words, held together by pulsating ideas and a sense of rhythm musicians would envy. This is Sorkin at his absolute best, a script with zip and jokes but also a profound understanding of exactly the sort of tunnel-visioned visionary perfectionism Jobs encapsulated, all wrapped up with a beautifully judged emotional through-line. Only Sorkin can make just actors delivering dialogue as dynamic and edge-of-the-seat as a car chase.

And (like The Social Network) his intensely intellectual style, and sense for the frustration of the super-intelligent at the rest of us for not keeping up, is perfect for this tale of the creation of the future of computing. Sorkin uses product launches as a window into how fresh idea can be accepted (or not) by the world. The battles over them, with the focus on small details that communicate the big picture and the difficulties of making others understand the visionary core that makes something work is crucial – and brilliantly delivered here. That’s perfect for Sorkin, who is gifted at making big-picture passionate thinkers sound as brilliant as they are.

But what makes Steve Jobs perhaps his most compelling script, is that he adds an emotional undertone to it. Jobs was a visionary, who understood better than the customer what they really wanted. But he was also a flawed individual. Sorkin’s script makes clear that, like his computers, he was a closed system. Just as the Macs were designed to only work with their own software and not interface with others (Jobs’ gospel, the exclusivity of the product being what makes it special), so Jobs himself built his own conception of the world and refused to let anything outside that influence it, or allow any external factors to change his mind. Decide he was loyal to someone, and nothing they do will shakes that. Decide another has betrayed him, and the system locks them out.

Central to this is Jobs’ relationship with his unacknowledged daughter. From the 5-year-old he reluctantly spends time with, to the young girl he starts to form a carefully emotionally managed bond with to the 19-year old who finally tells him how much she resents his closed-system management of their relationship. Sorkin’s script brilliantly balances an insight into why Jobs might have acted like this (bound up in issues with his birth parents) and the emotional impact it has on the daughter (the hugs not returned, the words not said). Jobs isn’t a bad man – although the script doesn’t shy away from his selfishness, or the appalling things he said about Lisa’s mother in the press – or a straight-forward terrible dad. He’s just not quite capable (or willing) of giving the emotional commitment needs. It’s written tenderly with a great deal of empathy for both father and daughter.

This emotion is further bought out by Boyle’s dynamic humanism at the helm. It’s a reminder of what a great theatre director Boyle is: this film is basically one of the most dynamic plays you’ll ever see, fast cuts and graphics intermixed with extended one-shot dialogue scenes that allow his actors to flourish. Boyle employs on-screen graphics and montage to move us between the product launches, but isn’t afraid to let his camera serve the dialogue, with the exchanges brilliantly cut to the rhythm of the dialogue.

He also sets out a space for the actors to deliver uniformly superb performances. Front and centre is Michael Fassbender’s transformational performance. He communicates Jobs’ brilliance and his ruthless determination to never compromise. It’s a performance of messianic intensity, but also extremely grounded and real – and, like Sorkin, he understands the heart of the film is the father-daughter relationship. Fassbender carefully hides Jobs’ emotional need, just as he understands the dynamism that wouldn’t allow a hint of vulnerability and arrogance that judges everyone as second-best to himself. He’s a tough, difficult, uncompromising man – but also an egalitarian one, (eventually) willing to acknowledge his flaws, the biggest being his fear of emotion.

Equally brilliant is Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ long-time confidante and ‘work-wife’, manager of each of the launches and a combination of mentor, conscience, counsellor and parent. Jeff Daniels is excellent as the businessman who goes from mentor to unforgiven rival. Seth Rogan gives his finest dramatic performance as Steve Wozniak, here a decent man and computing genius, who lacked Jobs’ ability to “play the orchestra” and shape events to his will.

It’s all wrapped up in a gripping film that feels like a fusion of theatre and film. If it has a problem, it’s that many will find its focus on the nuts-and-bolts of Apple hard to follow (and I confess, the script makes me understand the drama without understanding the product). But its strength is in understanding visionaries, their ability to shape ideas that wouldn’t occur to the rest of us – and the selfishness, and the damage that causes, that often goes hand-in-hand with that. With scintillating acting, skilful direction and, above all, a superb script, Steve Jobs is sharp and engrossing drama.

Sunshine (2007)

Astronauts head out to restart the sun in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Cillian Murphy (Robert Capa), Chris Evans (James Mace), Rose Byrne (Cassie), Michelle Yeoh (Corazon), Cliff Curtis (Searle), Troy Garity (Harvey), Hiroyuki Sanada (Kaneda), Benedict Wong (Trey), Chipo Chung (Icarus), Mark Strong (Pinbacker)

Spoilers: Last act surprises are discussed here. Although they did put them in the trailer at the time as well

What would we do if the sun decided to pack it in? To be fair, probably not build a bomb the size of Manhattan out of all the world’s fissile material and then fly it up to the Sun in a huge spaceship to jump start the sun’s core. Because that idea is pretty much like trying to restart a volcano with a match. To be fair, Professor Brian Cox (for it was he) did come up with an actual concept that did work – something involving a Q-Ball in the sun, whatever the hell that is – that the film never mentions. But then who really cares about the science, we only care about the simple idea of restarting the sun’s engine with a massive nuke. That’s an idea I don’t need a staff pass at the Large Hardron Collider to understand.

Mankind’s final fate is in the hand of a team pulled from across the world’s space agencies, with Professor Robert Capa (played by Cillian Murphy as a figure inspired heavily by Brian Cox himself in looks and style) as the boffin whose job is to blow the bomb when the time comes. The mission, Icarus II, is under the command of Captain Taneka (Hiroyuki Sanada), with engineer Mace (Chris Evans), pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) whose job is to maintain the oxygen garden, psychiatrist Searle (Cliff Curtis), navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) and second-in-command and comms officer Harvey (Troy Garity). Entering the final days of the mission, near Mercury, the crew discover traces of the first missing mission that carried the first payload to restart the sun, Icarus I. Deciding two payloads are better than one, the crew divert to intercept – and of course from there everything slowly falls apart into increasing chaos, destruction and horror.

Boyle’s film was marketed as a sort of slasher-in-space – which to be fair it only really becomes in its final act, as the crew accidentally take on board captain of Icarus I, Pinbacker (Mark Strong), a man driven mad by proximity to the sun, deluded in the belief that it is God’s will that mankind perish with the sun. In fact for the bulk of its runtime – and its primary themes – are really about the psychological impact of prolonged isolation in space with only a small group of people for company (a heightened submarine claustrophobia), the dangers and damage that obsession can cause and the moral complexities that emerge when the fate of mankind is literally in the hands of eight people.

With an intelligent script by Alex Garland, Boyle’s film is smart, superior sci-fi which asks searching questions of how we might respond in the situations this crew are thrown into. How quickly would you make decisions about who is expendable and who is not when you are mankind’s last chance? How quickly would you be willing to sacrifice yourself? What moral qualms would you feel if the fate of the one was balanced against the many? And how are all these feelings heightened by the intense claustrophobia and isolation of prolonged space travel, interacting with the same few people day-in and day-out in a ship of which every inch you would be intimately familiar within the first few months of a mission lasting years?

It’s a wonder more people don’t go crazy in the film. Boyle’s film makes excellent use of the terrifyingly awesome, good-like power of the sun. Its rays are so intense at the range of the ship, that any exposure over about 2% of its full strength is lethal. But there is something about its mighty power, its all-consuming presence, that draws characters too it like moths to a flame. Psychiatrist Searle (impressively played by Cliff Curtis) already seems to be becoming slowly a slave to an obsession with our star, his skin peeling from too many hours in the ship’s solar observation lounge. Pinbacker (a curiously accented performance of intense insanity from Mark Strong) lost his mind in sun worship, his mind seemingly snapped by coming face-to-face with the powers of the heaven compared to the mini-presence of man.

But it’s that presence of mankind that drives the mission, and lies behind all decisions. Hard-ass engineer Mace (Chris Evans, very good) seems like a jerk, but he simply applies Spock’s maxim of the needs of the many to a logical extreme (correctly) objecting to every course of action that invites unknowns into the equation that endanger the mission. And Mace doesn’t hesitate at any time in the film when asked to balance his own safety against the success of the mission. Each crew member – with the exception of Harvey – places their own survival a distant second behind the completion of the mission, and the film is littered with moments of self-sacrifice and self-imperilment.

It’s this humanistic core to the film, of accepting the world is it and that mankind must be preserved within that, which leads to some of the film’s more weighted points around faith and religion. The film has little time for anything away from pure science, and an interest in higher powers and staring too closely at the bright light, is mixed in heavily with a dangerous fundamentalism that eventually leads to the film’s only spiritual figure Pinbacker becoming a psychopath determined to follow what he sees as God’s plan at the cost of all human life. It’s not a subtle picture of religion – and the film could have balanced it with at least one of these characters expressing some faith in some sort of religion on the ship or gently questioning how humbling being this close to the face of God might feel. The film has no time for that.

But then I suppose this is really a psychologically intense mission film, a sort of big-themes action sci-fi that is the sort of ideas based film you wish was made more often. Boyle’s direction is pinsharp as always, and the moments of dreamy awe and shattering power of the sun (as bodies are vapourised, parts of the ship crumble) or the freezing vastness of space (as one character discovers to their cost) provide a series of haunting scenes. Shooting Pinbacker with a juddering out-of-focus intensity – intended to ape the feeling of starring directly at the sun – is effective in making the character chillingly unknowable.  This moments work very well, as does the superb cast which has not a weak link among them (Cillian Murphy in particular anchors the entire thing extremely well). Sunshine is a thought-provoking and blistering science-fiction film that manages to balance big themes and ideas with horror house jumps and haunting moments of tension.

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Dev Patel is the Chaiwala living the dream in Slumdog Millionaire

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Dev Patel (Jamal Malik), Freida Pinto (Latika), Madhur Mittal (Salim), Anil Kapoor (Prem Kumar), Irrfan Khan (Inspector), Ayush Mahesh Khedehar (Jamal [Child]), Tanay Chheda (Jamal [Teenager]), Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (Salim [Child]), Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala (Salim [Teenager]), Runbina Ali (Latika [Child]), Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar (Latika [Teenager]), Saurabh Shukla (Constable Srinivsas), Mahesh Manjrekar (Javred), Ankur Vikal (Maman)

Re-watching Slumdog Millionaire, it’s surprising to think that back in 2008 this film was so garlanded with awards (EIGHT Oscars!) and heralded so quickly as a classic. While it’s a well-made and at times rather sweet (with a hard-edge) fable, it’s also seems slightly less unique and genre-defying than first appeared. Never mind a list of the greatest Best Picture winners, I’m not even sure it’s the greatest Danny Boyle movie. But saying this, it’s still a fine movie – and one I arguably enjoyed more re-watching it almost ten years on then when I saw it in the cinema.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an eighteen year-old Muslim, a chaiwala working in a Mumbai call centre. He enters the Indian Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, hosted by egotistical Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), and to the astonishment of everyone is one question away from the ultimate prize of 20 million rubles. Arrested by the police and questioned before his final show, he explains via flashbacks how his experiences allowed him to answer each question. His life-story is one of danger and conflict in the slums and criminal underworld of India, tied closely to his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and their childhood friend Latika (Frieda Pinto), whom Jamal has loved his whole life.

Part social-realist tale, romance, family drama and fairy-tale, Slumdog’s main triumph is probably its ability to juggle half a dozen tones and genres so successfully. This is most strikingly demonstrated by fact that so many came out of a film that opens with its lead character being waterboarded and tortured by policemen, saying it was a brilliant feel-good movie! In fact, Boyle’s film is far more complex, touching on themes ranging from child exploitation and prostitution to gangland politics to social corruption, via murder, betrayal and mutilation. How does this a film crammed with this sort of material make you feel rather positive at the end?

Boyle’s, and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy’s, trick is to follow in the footsteps of that other great juggler of urban social comment and larger-than-life characters – Charles Dickens. Dickensian is perhaps the best word to describe Slumdog – it throws the viewer into the slums of Mumbai, glancing at this world with all the keen social commentary Dickens used to bring to Victorian London. As young children, Jamal and Salim are thrown in with a Fagin-like gang boss, while Latika develops an (admittedly much more gentle) Estelle-like connection with them both. Like David Copperfield, our hero moves from place to place (or frying pan to fire!), with an episodic charm, each event adding to the spectrum of his life. It works really well as it taps into a reassuringly familiar story structure that makes us feel narratively safe, no matter how much peril our heroes undergo.

What’s fascinating is placing this familiar material into (for us) a more exotic location. I suspect many American viewers watching were even less familiar with India as such a mixture of extreme wealth and poverty sit side-by-side so naturally (and again how Dickensian does that sound?). Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is astounding for its energetic immersion in the streets of Mumbai –it’s like an explosion of Boyle’s high-octane, camera-shaking style seen in so many of his other films. It not only makes the film feel fresh and vital, it also manages to present India as something very different for those only familiar with the country as a Taj Mahal postcard.

The most compelling parts of the film are those in the first half that throw us into the Mumbai of Jamal and Salim’s childhood. Helped immensely by six terrific performances from the child and teenager versions of our three leads, these sequences (just over the first half of the movie) immediately involve the viewer in the fates and feelings of these characters. Perhaps because the film is shot in such an immersive style, you feel as if you have experienced the dangers (and occasional joys) alongside them, and developed a close bond with them. 

Despite the romantic plot of the movie, the true story is the jagged relationship, with its loyalties and betrayals, between the innocent, gentle dreamer Jamal and the more ruthless, realist Salim. The film charts the lengths they will go to protect and help each other – or sometimes in Salim’s case not. Salim is a fascinating character – easily the deepest, most conflicted of the three – who even as a child has a moral flexibility, happy to gain the benefits of a ruthless criminal lifestyle, while still having enough conscience to know what he has done with his life is wrong.

In contrast, the relationship between Latika and Jamal is far less complex. Frieda Pinto doesn’t actually appear until almost two thirds of the way into the movie – and she and Patel have only really one dialogue scene together to establish a romantic link. The romance between them is in fact the standard fairy-tale – two young friends as children who become unknowing sweethearts. The film relies on us being invested in their fates as children to want to be together, rather than building a link between two grown adults. This is the structure of a Prince Charming and a Princess in distress rather than grown-up storytelling – but it clearly works because it taps into our own fundamental first experiences of how stories work.

Dev Patel is a very sweet and highly engaging lead – and how could we not be immediately on the side of a pleasant, gentle young man whom we first see hanging from a ceiling with electrodes on his feet? Patel has a low-key decency about him that becomes more engaging the more you watch the film. Since most of his narrative function is to offer linking scenes to the far more dynamic and exciting flashbacks – and since the character of Jamal has very little real depth to him beyond “he’s a good guy” (again like a fairytale his innocence is untouched by events) – it’s quite a testament to his performance that you end up feeling as close to him as you do.

But it’s clear to me second time around the framing device of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire contest is the most disposable, and least interesting part of the movie. It does have the film’s most outright enjoyable adult performance, a swaggering, ego-filled turn from Amil Kapoor, but it’s still all much more predictable, obvious and functional than the adventures we see as our characters grow up. We know Jamal is going to keep getting things right (and thank goodness each question he answers, he learned the answers consecutively through his life! What a mess that might have been otherwise narratively!), so the fact that Boyle keeps what is essentially the same scene each time seeming interesting is quite something.


The gameshow however is the “quest” of this romantic fairy-tale. And fairy-tale is really what the film is: Jamal is there to try and find and save Latika. So in the end it doesn’t really matter that Latika hardly feels like a character, or that we’ve been given no real reason to think she and Jamal are in love other than the film telling us that they are, or that the plot of the film is really as flimsy as tissue paper. The film is a dream, a romantic fable. The genius of Boyle is to use a whole load of familiar, Dickenisan-style tropes to place this into a social-realist travelogue, a dynamite dance of flamboyant film-making techniques. So perhaps that is the point about Slumdog: on repeated viewings, like fairy-tales, its plot tricks and narrative sleight-of-hand become more obvious. But you get more of a respect for the confidence with which the trick is played.

127 Hours (2010)

James Franco is literally stuck between a rock and a hard place in this mesmeric film from Danny Boyle
Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: James Franco (Aron Ralston), Kate Mara (Kristi Moore), Amber Tamblyn (Megan McBride), Clémence Poésy (Rana), Lizzy Caplan (Sonja Rolston), Kate Burton (Donna Ralston), Treat Williams (Larry Ralston)

Even people who’ve never heard of Aron Ralston, surely know this as “that film where James Franco cuts his arm off” (as my wife called it when I said I’d watched it). But, with the inspired direction of Danny Boyle and brilliant performance from James Franco, this is so much more than just a film about cutting an arm off.

Aron Ralston (James Franco) is an adventurous free-spirit, who loves nothing better than solitary journeys in isolated places. He’s asking for trouble – and ‘Ooops!’ (as he puts) one day he gets it, falling into a crevice where his arm is crushed in place by a boulder. Ralston is trapped for 127 hours, with limited food and water and only the contents of his rucksack to help. There is no chance of anyone finding him for weeks. Eventually the only option left for Ralston is the unthinkable: to disconnect his body from his trapped (and already dead) arm.

Possibly only Danny Boyle could make a film as dynamic, visually exciting and fun as this, about a man who spends the entire time stuck behind a rock. Ralston is such a vibrant personality that Boyle’s visual inventiveness works perfectly for the material. Boyle finds a host of brilliant angles and editing tricks to film, not only Ralston’s trapped positon, but also the host of day dreams and (increasingly) hallucinations Ralston experiences.

The film doesn’t rush us into Ralston’s trap either. The first 20 minutes show Ralston’s life as he lives it – independent, friendly, adventurous and essentially focused on himself. It also shows us how exciting and fun exploring can be – something we really need to know, so as not to think “Why are you even doing this, you idiot!” later.

When the event happens (and the film mines a lot of good-natured tension as we constantly wait for it to happen) it’s both sudden and low-key. Ralston’s first reaction (and yes it’s partly shock) is surprised irritation. Then the film swiftly tightens in on the small world this adventurer is now restricted to. The crevice, the boulder, a strip of sky, the contents of his rucksack – all of which (despite his best efforts) are inadequate for getting him free. Boyle’s immersive skill in staging Ralston’s claustrophobic position is so great that you feel the same unnerved surprise as Ralston does when he is finally free, after watching him fixed in place for over an hour.

The film gets a certain dark humour from the foreknowledge almost anyone watching has. Some of the very first shots, show Ralston’s hand reaching into a cupboard looking for his pen knife (the want of which he later heavily regrets), the knife close to the camera, just out of Ralston’s casual reach. Later, there is an extra agony watching him chip away uselessly at the rock (with a utility knife he establishes is not sharp enough to cut his thumb), knowing every blow is making this knife blunter and blunter –making what we know he will have to use it for later harder and harder to do.

Ralston finds himself in an impossible situation (from his own hubris and overconfidence), but not only keeps hold of his sense of hope and humanity but also makes profound discoveries about himself and his life. That’s the focus Boyle keeps his story on – and each of the flashbacks and hallucinations focus on Ralston reviewing his past mistakes he’s made and reflecting (without heavy handed dialogue) on how (if he escapes) he could change his life.

A lot of the film’s success is based on James Franco’s exceptional performance. It’s is as alive and throbbing as the movie, and he really understands the charismatic fire in Ralston, the egotism and cockiness matched with resourcefulness and determination. He’s every inch the guy cocky enough to go it alone in the wilderness, and skilled enough to explore every angle for escape. He’s not an idiot, but not a hero – he’s a guy who grows to understand mistakes he has made, while never wallowing in self-pity, who can make the kind of calls most of us would find unthinkable.

As for that scene? Well yes it’s tricky to watch (to say the least), but not because it’s graphic or unpleasant – but because Boyle makes carrying out such an act so logical, so necessary, that you look down at your own arm and wonder if you would have the guts to do the same. The premonition Ralston reported of seeing his own yet-to-be-conceived son, giving him the determination to do the deed, is staged by Boyle with a dreamy lyricism. This is picked up in AR Rahman’s score, which slowly build in intensity to consume the scene. As Ralston cuts each of the nerve endings in his arm, the music jars in a way that tells us more about pain than any level of screaming would do.

So yes the central event is hard to watch – but this is not exploitative or gross-out. Instead it’s a rich, rewarding and engaging film, dynamically filmed – for a film about a guy trapped in one place, it constantly feels like it is on the move. It’s a story about the human spirit, and how we can conquer impossible odds – especially when we feel, as Ralston did, that he wasn’t doing this just for himself but for his family. Far from an endurance trip, this is a heartfelt and moving story that left me feeling uplifted. I think it might be Boyle’s best film since Trainspotting.

Trainspotting (1996)

Another happy day in Edinburgh… Ewen Bremner, Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle define their careers in the mid-1990s phenomenen

Director: Danny Boyle

Cast: Ewan McGregor (Renton), Ewen Bremner (Spud), Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy), Robert Carlyle (Begbie), Kevin McKidd (Tommy), Kelly Macdonald (Diane), Peter Mullan (Mother Superior), Eileen Nicholas (Mrs. Renton), James Cosmo (Mr. Renton), Shirley Henderson (Gail Houston), Stuart McQuarrie (Gav), Irvine Welsh (Mikey)

Surprise, surprise the Drug’s Don’t Work. They just make you worse. Honestly, watching Trainspotting you would have to be a Grade A moron or wilfully missing the point to ever imagine that this film could, in any way what-so-ever, be endorsing the life of heroin addiction. The unbalanced, unreliable, sickly-looking, soul crushingly blank-eyed losers in this film are no-ones idea of an aspiration. The fate of Tommy alone, starting the film as a health freak and ending it as a smacked out, paper thin, wasting AIDS victim could only encourage the truly unbalanced to take up drugs.

You must know the story: Ewan McGregor is our “hero” Renton, a junkie with delusions every so often (the film implies this has occurred multiple times) of going clean, kicking the habit only to find that he is always drawn back in – largely it seems due to his own weak personality. Fellow junkies include Spud (Ewan Bremner), Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and later (tragically) Tommy (Kevin McKidd). On the edge of their junkie circle (not a user) is psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle) who doesn’t need drugs when he can get a high from starting a bar fight. The basic plot is slim in this whipper sharp film where experience is all – Renton goes clean, gets sucked back in, misses prison, goes cold turkey, escapes to London, gets sucked back into a drug deal. That’s basically it. What’s important here is the experience.

This is possibly one of the best films about addiction ever seen (I watched it in a double bill with The Lost Weekend which actually works out as a pretty natural combo). Boyle and screenwriter Andrew Hodge aren’t scared to show that drugs at times can be fun (after all if they didn’t make you feel good part of the time why would you do them?) and they can give colour to life (particularly to the shallow non entities this film centres on). The is even a strange family warmth to Renton and friends getting smacked out in an otherwise disgusting dilapidated drug pit, listening to Sick Boy dissect the Sean Connery Bond films. This is then brilliantly counterbalanced by the appalling lows – from the truly unsettling dead baby, abandoned and unfed in said drug den, to Renton’s appalling cold turkey. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing here is that Danny Boyle directs with such verve and with a gleeful delight for every single shooting and editing trick in the book, but the film never feels like a triumph of style over substance, or as if the tricks are the centre of the director’s attention. Instead throughout the whole film you can tell the heart of the film makers – and therefore the heart of the viewer – is also focused on the story and the characters. So we get a film that crackles with energy, with a sense of youthful vitality (that is vital to understanding its characters), has an attractive anti-society message – but also reminds us that the perils of following this kind of counter culture life can be truly horrifying.

At the centre of this film is Ewan McGregor, who I don’t think has ever found a role that he could seize and bring to life as successfully as he did with this one. McGregor is captivating, managing to skilfully demonstrate without any judgement a man who believes he is strong, but is in fact desperately weak. His performance is so charismatic that you hardly notice that Renton is, actually, a pretty nasty person. High or not he has a barely concealed contempt for nearly everyone around him, his reaction to the baby death is shockingly cold, his treatment of Tommy laced with indifference, his pronouncements to the audience overflow with self-regard and delusion. But you just don’t notice.

What you do notice is that Robert Carlyle’s Begbie is a total nutter. Just like McGregor, I think Carlyle struggled to find a role that matched this one, probably not helped by the string of psychos he was offered by casting directors. Carlyle again actually isn’t in the film that much, but he nails how terrifying total self belief can be when matched with a complete lack of any moral sense. In fact most of the cast have hardly ever been better. Excellent support also comes from Peter Mullan, Eileen Nicholas, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson and Stuart McQuarrie while Irvine Welsh pops up as low rent dealer.

Electric film making with a heart, I don’t think even Danny Boyle has topped this. There is something strangely perfect about this film – anything more and it might out stay it’s welcome, but every scene has something magic in it, some little touch that stays in the mind – either performance, dialogue, direction or all three. It looks fantastic and seemed to define its era. So fingers crossed for the sequel. No pressure…