Apparently, the cops in Scotland make Detective Alonzo Harris look like Amnesty International. James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots and Academy Award winner Jim Broadbent star in Filth.
Director – Jon S. Baird
Screenplay – Jon S. Baird
Based on the novel Filth by Irvine Welsh
Producer – Ken Marshall, Jon S. Baird, Trudie Styler, Jens Meurer, Celine Rattray, Will Clarke, James McAvoy, Christian Angermayer, Mark Amin & Stephen Mao
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and some violence
Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh, Scotland. He’s manipulative, hateful man that spends most of time deep in drugs, alcohol, sexually abusive relationships and dirty pranks he directs at his workmates that he refers to as “the games”. One of those pranks involves repeatedly taking advantage of his mild-mannered friend Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), member of Bruce’s masonic lodge.
Robertson’s main goal in life is to gain the promotion offer of Detective Inspector. The path to promotion appears brighter for him when he’s assigned to oversee the investigation of a murdered Japanese student. However, Bruce’s chaotic personal life begins to take over his work life as he begins to suffer from hallucinations which causes him to lose his grip on reality.
Filth is more than reminiscent of acclaimed gritty works from the mid to late ’90s such as Pulp Fiction and Trainspotting, particularly considering the author of the novel this film is based on, Irvine Welsh, also wrote Trainspotting. The styles of both Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) have become a genre in itself, for better or worse. Following their releases, a number of copycats emerged, some that work and some that don’t. It’s unfortunate that, in spite of its stellar cast headlined by James McAvoy, Filth falls in the latter category.
What made Trainspotting (which this film is more akin to than the aforementioned Pulp Fiction) so great is that the film cared about most of its deeply flawed characters. The violence felt real and contained, and Danny Boyle’s style never overshadowed the story or characters. Here, director Jon S. Baird – in just his second feature – delivers the same stylistic touches found in Trainspotting and the many other copycats that followed. The difference is we get a flawed central character with no real empathy behind him. That Bruce Robertson is so obnoxious isn’t the problem. The problem is Baird’s mishandling of certain elements of the character – one involving a long-lost wife and child that’s never really developed or explained as to why they left – which lack sincerity and seem solely designed to evoke any bit of sympathy out of the viewer at a time within the film that feels a bit too little, too late.
If there’s any saving grace to this film, it’s James McAvoy. McAvoy has mostly kept a nice-guy persona for most of his career. In just a handful of scenes, McAvoy takes a baseball bat and shatters that charming, boyish image that propelled him to stardom. Just when you thought you’d never see Tumnus/Charles Xavier getting his rocks off through erotic asphyxiation, think again. As Bruce Robertson, he switches it up, pulls no punches and goes balls-to-the-wall unleashed in depicting a man’s descent into madness. It truly is quite a performance from him, one that is far deserving of better material and a better character arc.
Along for the ride with McAvoy, Jamie Bell is superb as someone who appears to be a novice under McAvoy, but emerges with his own equal agenda. Eddie Marsan and Imogen Poots are both solid as probably the only two sympathetic characters in the entire film, and Jim Broadbent has a few moments with McAvoy as his doctor that echo Terry Gilliam.
James McAvoy commands the screen here at every given opportunity, and the supporting cast behind him stands out as well. It’s unfortunate, though, that this film offers nothing new to the Trainspotting style while also rehashing the number of “bad cop” films we’ve seen before, and concluding with a third act twist that unravels the film further. Having a central character with very little, if any, redeemable value that doesn’t feel forced is just further proof that this terrific cast is far more deserving of a better film.
I give Filth a C (★★½).