Step aside Xavier, we have no time for your holier than thou ‘save the mutants’ PC babble here, not in Jon S. Baird’s adaptation of Filth staring the awesome James McAvoy. In what can best be described as a Glasgow kiss to the groin, Filth explores a character so morally destitute that you’ll be scrubbing yourself with holy-water come the end. From his vile abuse of power to stalking and bribing/blackmailing friends we are dragged kicking and screaming along this roller-coaster ride that swings wildly between dark comedy and pure sadomasochistic fantasy. And I loved every second of it.
Based on the third novel by Irvin Welsh – the Scotsman who brought us the cult hit Trainspotting – writer, director and producer Jon S. Baird pulls no punches in his exploration of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, portrayed by McAvoy in a role that he surprisingly fits very well. The movie tracks the desperate attempts of Robertson to win a promotion; something that he feels will bring back his estranged wife and will do anything, ANYTHING win it. Baird puts us in a tricky situation here because the protagonist is such an unlikable bastard for most of the movie. Sure, at first he comes across as a hard arse similar to some of the characters you’ll have seen in a Guy Ritchie movie but this quickly turns into something far darker and far harder to laugh at. And this is one of the main reasons why I like it. You see a character try and redeem himself close to the beginning but when this fails his motivation turns from ‘try fix it’ to ‘just go with it and hope for the best’. Baird also uses hallucinations to help explore Robertson’s motivations – from his wife tormenting him or his psychologist driving him nuts – these are needed as we do tend to forget what the hell is going on as his own personal maelstrom engulfs him.
Unlike Trainspotting Filth centres on one character, a sociopathic, rage-filled, morally bankrupt Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson. His decent into full blown madness reminded me of Conrad Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, only this time we get to see it happen in front of us, which makes it far more personal and scary. It can also be damn funny at times too. Snatching a balloon from a rude kid and then pulling zap signs at him is mean, it’s bully behaviour but you can just about excuse it in that ‘oh, you’ kind of way. Almost killing your best friend from a bad drug experience and then framing him for a crime you actually committed, not so much. McAvoy really does go all out in convincing us of Robertson’s appalling behaviour, but Baird balances this with flashes of potential redemption that has you hoping for the character’s eventual salvation. I was really taken aback by the performance of McAvoy and can see that he has matured from roles in movies such as Trance and Welcome to the Punch. In fact he is so badass it’s difficult to imagine him as a good guy after this movie (there goes the next X-Men movie…) McAvoy was said to have been very apologetic to his fellow cast members after filming some of the dirtier scenes. When you watch the movie you’ll know why.
One of the problems with Filth is that it starts out as a Snatch like dark comedy, one that offers a familiar mood and tone and one that is comfortably recognizable. This is flipped on its head as it turns on ‘desperation speed’ and heads off in a direction some will find sudden and uncomfortable. That being said the supporting cast help with anchoring us in a partial ‘real’ space with their antics. From the woman Robertson is having an affair with and her sexual antics – “cut the gas off!” – to the Chief of police’s extremely carefully phrased homophobia (least we offend anyone), these minor distractions help sooth us for the torment that is Robertson.
Filth will have you laughing and gasping in equal measures and it moves from one to the other so quickly you’ll need a neck brace by the end and possibly an exorcism. It’s a movie that is worth watching just for McAvoy’s performance, a performance so manic and bloody mad you’ll hate him as much as you love him. The story itself is well constructed and will keep you second guessing what is happening right up till the end. Just don’t expect an anti-hero that is ‘roguish’ and ‘loveable’, expect one that makes filth shine.
Release date: 23 May 2014 (16LVNSD)
Last Updated: May 14, 2014