It happens to be a special day for Ewan McGregor. The famed Scottish actor not only celebrates his 46th birthday today, but it’s also the U.S. release of his long-awaited film, T2 Trainspotting.
To celebrate the occasion, let’s turn back the clocks and take a close look at three of his most iconic films.
Danny Boyle’s original Trainspotting provided McGregor with one of his most electrifying roles ever, as the charismatic heroin-addict Mark Renton. The movie is about a clan of five Edinburgh friends as they struggle with heroin addiction, law breaking, and in the case of one of them (Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle), an apparently overwhelming desire to pick fights with everyone around.
What makes this film so incredibly great – and still hold up more than 20 years later – is that it portrays the harrowing mishaps of its heroes in a way that feels upbeat, jazzy, and even joyful at times. But though the movie is fun and energetic, it also provides a sobering look at the devastation these characters leave behind them in their eternal quest for the next hit. As Roger Ebert described it, “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.”
Ewan McGregor gives an exceptional performance – largely because of its ambiguity. Are we supposed to like Renton? Should we continue to root for him, despite the terrible things he does? The answer, of course, is that we really can’t help it. Ewan makes him much too endearing.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The exclamation mark that punctuates this title is no joke. Moulin Rouge! is a manic, madcap caper of a film, and one of the most bizarre and entertaining musicals you’ll ever see. Nicole Kidman stars opposite McGregor, and plays a shrewd courtesan with dreams of becoming a celebrated actress. McGregor portrays the penniless writer who falls madly in love with her.
What complicates matters for this duo is a rich, peevish duke who also harbors feelings for the girl. As you might have guessed, things get slightly out of hand.
Though there’s certainly nothing new about this type of love story, what makes Moulin Rouge! so unforgettable is the style and artistry of it. The film is a spirited pastiche of contemporary pop songs and movie references (in one musical number, McGregor twirls his umbrella in an obvious homage to Gene Kelly; in another, he breaks out into an off-the-cuff rendition of “The Sound of Music.”)
The colors are vibrant, the action is breathless, and the camera races to capture it all. Unlike Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge! hardly ever feels like it’s mired in reality. Everything is too cartoonish and ornate. But what ultimately gives the film its emotional edge are the tremendous performances put on by McGregor and Kidman. The two play a pair of serious lovers in a world gone mad, and the passion they bring to their performances helps balance out the zaniness of the rest of the film.
Big Fish (2003)
This Tim Burton classic depicts the story of a dying man and his estranged son. The reason for their complicated relationship is the frustration the son feels towards his father, who has a habit of telling implausible stories about his past. The viewer gets to see these tall tales first hand, as the movie follows the father’s life played out in flashback. Ewan McGregor portrays a younger version of the father, and undertakes a series of remarkable adventures.
day one favourite movie - big fish (2003) pic.twitter.com/zFOi2cC6bE— ???????? (@iwant2endorseu) March 13, 2017
Indeed, the movie feels like a magical Forrest Gump. The world depicted in Big Fish is one that’s populated by witches, giants, and werewolf ringmasters, in which anything and everything seems possible. In this modern fairy tale, reality and fantasy blend together in an exciting way. And the film ultimately asks a profound and momentous question: Is it ever possible that fiction can be more true than the truth itself?
Ewan McGregor brings exceptional acting to all three of these engrossing films, and each of them is great in its own individual way. If you’ve never seen them, do yourself a favor and rent, borrow, or stream them however you can. If you don’t, you’ll be missing out on cinematic gold.
[Featured Image by Evan Agostini/AP Images]