Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), an Alcoholic, drug fuelled, corrupt Edinburgh cop chases a promotion for detective inspector, and isn’t afraid to use dirty tactics to get it. But after a mysteriously messy marriage breakdown, what’s really going on? Or is it all in his head?
Filth is the fourth film to be adapted by one of Irvine Welsh’s ambitious novels, but the only one anyone really remembers is Trainspotting, which arguably set the benchmark for British cinema. It was in your face, satirical and its humour made you both laugh and grimace, which 20 years back was a massive development from the period films that use to be synonymous to Britain. Since Danny Boyle’s revolutionary adaptation no other Welsh novel has seemed to quite match up to Trainspotting…until now.
Jon S.Baird’s directorial take on Welsh’s third novel, proposes that Welsh’s novels can still make the transition from novel to great cinema. Welsh’s fierce independence comes across great in Filth, even though it was written in 1998. Though its aggressive satirical view of the police can come across as slightly more of a reflection of its publication time, it’s cleverness and dark wit of Welsh is superbly relevant and it’s employed by an unrecognisable James McAvoy.
The lead protagonist, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, is fantastically portrayed by McAvoy, whose fulfilled a character role that’s so different from anything we’ve seen him in so far. In his latest films such as Trance and Welcome to the punch, there was a sense of McAvoy pushing boundaries to play a darker character, but it was never quite achieved possibly due to those character limits. However, Bruce Robertson is every shade of dark, unlikeable and grotesque. The audience is constantly shocked at his actions and it’s that drive that keeps the film at a constant pace and McAvoys ambitious and effective acting that is the driving force.
At the beginning of the film and for most of it, no sense of confliction or conscience is felt from Bruce and it’s his fine manipulation of the other members of the police team, to ensure him of the promotion that the most laughs. However, after a while, it can be easy to start detesting the protagonist, and that’s when the film really starts to hit its potential, when the audience sees that not everything is as it seems.
On the surface, Bruce is quintessentially a misogynistic, racist, sexist bully whose manipulative ways fool almost everyone even his dim witted best friend, brilliantly played by Eddie Marsan. Deep down however, his marriage is in meltdown, he’s hallucinating due to his bi polar and he sees the promotion as a sure way to win his wife back.
A stellar cast really bring another element to the film, even Jim Broadbent’s demonic councillor captures the madness of the film even though he plays a small part. It’s that bizarreness of the film, Bruce’s hallucinations, the hard-core drug use, the risky sex scenes that keep the audience on its toes but in criticism can maybe alienate a certain type of audience, asking them to take the obscure as they go, with the gritty realism of the film.
It can be at times too ambiguous, not knowing whether part of the story is real or part of an inexplicable hallucination. Also, because of its ambiguous nature, even when all becomes clear about the twists of the film, Bruce’s backstory still leaves a lot of questions for the audience to ask, and can therefore can cause a bit of lacklustre towards the end. However, part of its ambiguousness is what makes the film refreshing, and the twists and turns through the plot keep the audience engaged and keeps the film unpredictable.
Filth isn’t for the faint hearted. Yes, it’s filthy all the way through in every moral aspect possible, but it’s full of black humour and sometimes some touching moments that add an extra dimension. The fact that the film doesn’t stick to a boring hero-villain is stimulating, because the protagonist is both the hero and villain. Jon S. Baird directs the film so well, that we see possibly redeeming qualities to McAvoy’s character and an explanation to why he is the way he is, but at the core he’s still rotten, he’s just more rotten because of other factors and it’s so fresh to have a lead that an audience aren’t coaxed into liking.
Although Filth is the epitome of its name on the surface, under its skin it is in way a very pure honest story, and it’s that ingenious juxtaposition that’s used throughout the film that brings so much more depth, and also in turn captures the nature of Bruce’s bi polar. Definitely has the potential to become every bit of a cult classic as Trainspotting and more.