DIRECTOR: John S Baird
CAST: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots, Joanne Froggatt, Gary Lewis, Martin Compston, Kate Dickie, Shirley Henderson
CLASSIFICATION: 16 LVNSD
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
Difficult to watch, Filth represents a very bold career move for James McAvoy. He shatters his good-guy image (built up in The Chronicles Narnia, Wanted, X-Men: First Class and Last King of Scotland) playing an amoral Scottish policeman, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson.
Bruce is on an emotional downward spiral fuelled by booze, cocaine and a very dodgy approach to sexual relationships and McAvoy attacks the role with a wide-eyed sense of glee, not hamming it up, but simply diving into the misogyny and misanthropy.
Every now and then you might catch a glimpse of a possible conscience, perhaps even a good-hearted person, but then Bruce squishes that fantasy with another swig of whiskey or snort of coke as he loses his grip on reality, slipping on his own lies and falling into the filth of his own creation.
The film hones in on one aspect of his life, he is in line for a promotion and there’s a been a murder. No problem, because he is in control and all over it. And once he gets it, his wife will come back to him and his idiot colleagues will respect him just a bit more.
Except, this is a downward spiral, where nothing is as it seems and Bruce is certainly not in control of anything. As the film progresses, he is shown to be on meds for presumably a bipolar disorder, except, he isn’t taking his lithium and this results in hallucinations.
As he attempts to manipulate the people around him, his physical decay mirrors his moral and mental disintegration.
Filth dips into issues such as drug and alcohol abuse as well as racism and discrimination in a Scottish context, creating a messy shock to the system. Forget happy bagpipers, a wee dram of uisge and the artsy Edinburgh Festival.
The title warns you it is going to be filthy, but you don’t believe they are really going to show you this grimy side of a person, even when we have been to the nastiest toilets in Scotland, courtesy of Trainspotting. It isn’t even just the gross bits such as vomiting that makes you turn aside, but the emotionally malicious way Bruce manipulates people.
A familiarity with the book source material will actually help you make sense of what is going on, though the film doesn’t suffer by excising all the references to the characters from the other Irvine Walsh offerings such as Trainspotting, Crime and Marabou Stork Nightmares.
Eddie Marsan and Jamie Bell make for interesting foils as nebbish friend and rookie co-worker who learn a couple of lessons from Bruce, but mostly, the other actors are people he does things to, not with.
The stream of consciousness effect of the book is presented as narration in film, which is something you should pay attention to because it gives a clue to the eventual denouement.
That unravelling of the plot, and by implication, Bruce, happens pretty quickly when compared to the set-up which takes up much of the film.
But even after all is said and done, the director and main actor still manage to create a measure of sympathy for this almost-Machiavellian character because we’ve also caught a glimpse of the man underneath the coke-snorting, whisky-drinking bigot.
If you liked, Trainspotting or Defendor. you might like this.