Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was one of the more orginal films of 1996. It was a powerful insight into the drug scene, a slab of grimy Scottish realism, and the first time many people saw that talented actor, Ewan McGregor. The film was based on a novel by cult author, Irvine Welsh, who enjoyed a brief celebrity as literary rough trade.
Fast forward to 2012, and we have Ecstasy. Sorry, make that: Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, by Canadian director, Rob Heydon – not to be confused with Ekstase, the 1933 film in which Hedy Lamarr took a skinny dip. Heydon’s film sends out a terrible warning that if you take too many drugs you may begin to speak in long streams of clichés, or perhaps in a thick Scottish accent. Having never gotten around to reading Irvine Welsh I’m unable to say whether this is an accurate reflection of the novel or whether we can thank the director, who is also co-author of the screenplay.
One knows what to expect from a film in which the protagonist takes drugs, sells drugs, and deals with nasty, violent hoodlums. It all seems fab at the beginning, but there’s trouble on the way. Where Heydon surprises us is that instead of the inevitable bleak, murderous ending, he contrives to transform this tale into a feel-good flic. I won’t reveal too much, but when the last line of a Scottish drug movie is: “Right now, all over the world, people are surrendering to love,” you know this is a utterly sick piece of work.
Even those of us who fail to understand the attraction of dropping tabs of ecstasy and jiggling all night in a dark room filled with ear-splitting music can agree it must be better than wallowing in niceness. In the cinema, an overdose of niceness is more lethal than heroine.
Although the level of happiness rises alarmingly at the end, most of Ecstasy is suitably bleak. It’s difficult to imagine a movie set in Edinburgh that wasn’t bleak. Bleaker still is the dialogue, which sounds like it was written by a bunch of stoned people who thought it sounded deep.
We know we’re in trouble early on, when our hero, Lloyd (Adam Sinclair), tells us: “They say death kills yer. But death doesn’t kill yer. Boredom and indifference kills yer.”
I was still pondering this, when Lloyd met Heather, a Canadian girl with prominent white gnashers, whom he declares to be a “gawddess”. Their first proper conversation is a little vague:
She: “I’m just trying to forget.”
He: “Forget what?”
She: “I dunno, I forgot.”
But this is only a warm-up. We soon find that Heather (Kristin Kreuk – a name to conjure with), is a super-charged one-woman cliché factory.
“I’m trying to connect here,” she says. And later: “You never talk about the small things.. the small things are actually the big things.”
How about: “I’ve met someone. He understands me, he listens to me. I don’t know how long it will last, but for now he makes me feel special.” She even ventures: “Get a real job. Clean up, fly right.”
Nobody could act with liness like these, but this is hardly an actors’ film. It’s more like a video clip, with lots of frenetic music, and too many sequences where the film is speeded up. There is also a gratuitous sex scene between Lloyd and another girl. Heather, being too nice to do a nude scene, gets to keep her gear on, but every street-wise drug movie obviously requires a glimpse of flesh.
Whenever we see Lloyd he’s making faces, even when he’s not on drugs. However, he does have a heart of gold, as demonstrated by the way he cares for his drunken old dad (Stephen McHattie), who provides him with homilies about right and wrong, and asks only for “a little respect.”
Lloyd’s ratbag mates are just as lovable, deep down.
There is but one completely bad egg – Solo, a shaven-headed Latin (Carlo Rota), who gets hysterical and threatens everyone. At one stage he even puts the boot into Heather. Here our sympathies are entirely with Solo – it was the only way of arresting the flow of clichés.
Published by the Australian Financial Review, April 28, 2012
Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, Canada, Rated MA, 98 mins