James McAvoy takes on the irredeemable in perhaps the performance of his career in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Filth.. Is it another Trainspotting? Or does it's over dependence on black comedy make it unlikeable? 411's Terry Lewis finds out!
James McAvoy - Bruce Robertson Shauna Macdonald - Carole Robertson Eddie Marsan - Clifford Blades Jamie Bell - Ray Lennox Imogen Poots - Amanda Drummond Emun Elliott - Peter Inglis John Sessions - Robert Toal Jim Broadbent - Dr. Rossi Shirley Henderson - Bunty Blades Martin Compston - Gorman
Note: Terry is reviewing from the Region 2 Blu-ray copy of the movie. Differences may vary per region
Scottish author Irvine Welsh made a big impact with his first novel Trainspotting but it's perhaps the critically acclaimed film adaptation that made him a semi-household name in the UK for people of a certain age. He's pretty much guaranteed to have a very healthy press and public attention whenever he rolls out another book over here. The few film adaptations are too and fellow Scot director Jon S. Baird (Cass) has a task on his hands translating the complex book onto the big screen in a rather dividing movie.
Set over the winter Christmas and New Year holiday period in Edinburgh, Filth sees us introduced to Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy, X-Men: Days Of Future Past), an amoral, Machiavellian, misanthropic, racist, sexist and psychotic Detective Sergeant with big ambitions to be promoted to Detective Inspector. He believes that winning this role in the Police will help him win back his wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald, The Descent. To help this he takes part in 'The Games' - various upstaging ploys against his fellow police officers. After the death of a Japanese student however, Bruce's mental state begins to shift massively.
Simply put, this is the role that McAvoy was born for. He seems very motivated in bringing Bruce to life in a conflicting role, as you can imagine a young Scottish actor on a Welsh book adaptation being. There's not much positive you can say about Bruce and yet, in his captivating performance, McAvoy manages to get across the slight air of redeemability Bruce needs to stop him from becoming totally unlikeable. Going from strength to strength as the film progress, the final scenes with a broken Bruce are probably some of the greatest moments of McAvoy's career so far with that finishing sick smile before the credits kicking being equally haunting.
As the film is all about Bruce for the most part, the rest of the characters swing in and out with little time to make an impact but that's not much of a worry since they're mainly archetypes. Imogen Poots (Need For Speed) plays herself AGAIN disappointingly and doesn't even put on a Scot accent, in a waste of a role as the closest to a moral compass on the police force. Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas) rips up the scenery of every moment he's in - both in the real world and Bruce's delusions - as Bruce's doctor. Eddie Marsan of The World's End has a memorable turn as Bruce's put upon and ill treated, unsure of himself freemason colleague and friend Clifford, as well as Jamie Bell continuing to shed his probably unshakable clean image from Billy Elliot as a cocaine snorting police colleague.
Of course being based on a Irvine Welsh book, Filth is the kind of film which has a drunk Santa Claus pissing up the wall and an Asian exchange student threatening a gang of Glaswegian chavs and lowlifes with kung fu before having the bejesus pummelled out of him in it's first five minutes, all set to 'Walking in a Winter Wonderland'. Yes it's that of extreme humour and the kind of debauchery most writers can only dream about and Baird gets a great deal of it down well. Bruce is the centre of it all as he ranges from prank calling Clifford's wife with dirty language (and blaming him for it), taking poppers & other hard drugs instead of his psychiatric medicine and saying to his colleague's wife "to turn off the gas" whilst having an affair. The point being that Bruce is the most loathsome character and deserves what he gets, despite his minimal redeeming qualities, in a world with next to no pure, worthy people left. All of this debauchery to make this point to me is worth the controversy the film has and continues to have attached to it.
Away from the controversial aspects of the film, I feel Baird does a rather good job creating the slow, slipping descent of Bruce's psyche with a pretty awesome soundtrack complimenting some great editing and cinematography. Of course, the Scotland locations and regional dialect help massively with the film's legitimacy. If you struggled with Trainspotting, you'll be pleased to know that Filth is much more accessible and understandable. The fast and quick edits of Bruce's sick smile at the end is some masterful work and Baird does the book justice, considering it was labelled as "unfilmable" and some of the aspects don't quite work for me.
This film is at it's core just a series of continuing pretty dark turns before it then goes further down. Bruce's self destructive path gets more and more noticeable and public with his sexual repression as he tries to get off over Page 3 girls from newspapers (which is damn pretty pathetic if you've ever seen The Sun UK newspaper) and parlour games at the Christmas party where he photocopies all the male police staff's members so one of them can have it off with the office secretary. As much as I like the individual components, bolted together the constant stream of upping the ante with debauchery and darker moments gets too much and it loses it's effectiveness. You can see the turns in Bruce's story arc coming after we know he suffers from hallucinations and the reasons why he can't disclose his condition to his colleagues. Most of the visions are people in admittedly good looking animal and horror masks which is a problem in adapting a near unfilmable book as how can you visually and accurately show a mental health issue in a visual medium effectively? The leaning on the darker aspects of Bruce's character for humorous effect is a lot to swallow too, as really we shouldn't be finding what this man does and says funny at all later on. The tapeworm metaphor from the book is lost on being used as a device in Filth's narrative.
Seeing Bruce's mental health deteriorating and the reveal, if a little obvious given the clues, is pretty exceptional. It's just his way of blocking out his home problems and leads to a tremendously ludicrous finale & the credits sequence adds to it. After a downbeat yet understandable ending, the cartoon monologues of various fairy tale characters which relate to Bruce & co. is the icing on the cake after Bruce's choice in the end, even if it is a bit of a departure.
The 411: You'll either love it or hate it with no room for inbetween with Filth. After tussling my thoughts around, I can say I enjoyed certain aspects very much. With McAvoy's sublime performance of a completely irredeemable man being the key highlight, the slow descent from laugh out loud funny moments to black comedy amusement to flat out dark moments at the end is a strong and bleak journey to go on with Bruce. I felt myself being challenged by this film so with that in mind, barring some squiffy moments and shooting it's load in the first half, Filth gets a comfortably solid thumbs up from me.