Adapted from Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh’s 1998 novel, Filth is the story of Bruce Robertson, played by James McAvoy, an amoral Scottish policeman who’ll do anything and everything he can to secure the promotion in his local constabulary, even (or perhaps especially) if it means screwing over his friends and colleagues in the process. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in a film that’s as surreal and twisted as it is controversial and offensive. It’s also brilliant.
As a man circling the drain of life, eking out a drug, alcohol and sex fuelled existence, McAvoy is a revelation. It would be hard to describe his performance as the despicable detective as anything less than a tour de force, the actor clearly relishing the chance to play someone as morally reprehensible as he does here. As racist, misogynistic, sectarian, homophobic, sexist and generally not nice person Bruce Robertson is not the easiest protagonist to root for, yet somehow through his sheer force of will and determination you find yourself wanting him to get away with it all. He’s like a more horrible version of Kevin Spacey in House of Cards; manipulating everyone to his own ends, and you can’t help but enjoy his Machiavellian schemes. McAvoy’s performance and the ‘no holds barred’ script never shies away from the horrible person Robertson is or the horrible things he’s done and it’s a measure of the films strength and confidence in its lead that come the end, when we discover exactly why he is the damaged character he is, we still know that he’s a despicable person but we can sympathise with his predicament.
The early scenes are full to bursting with gallows humour that while admittedly might not be to everyone’s taste (it covers all the bases when it comes to offending minorities), but if you know the tone the film is going for you may find yourself guiltily chuckling along at the absurdity of it all. And when the film takes a turn for the serious it’s no less absurd than before but it’s entirely in keeping with the films larger than life cartoonish tone, culminating in a satisfying oddly triumphant finale that also feels like a perfect fit for the story we’ve been told so far. ‘Same rules apply.’
Ably supporting McAvoy are Jamie Bell, a fellow police officer angling for promotion who acts as a whipping boy for Robertson’s schemes, Eddie Marsan as Bruce’s best friend/scapegoat/doormat and Jim Broadbent who shows up in nightmarish fantasy sequences as detailing the fractured nature of Bruce’s psyche. Each are fine performances, but this is undoubtedly McAvoy’s film and perhaps the finest performance of his career so far.
Combine that with some gloriously horrible imagery as well as some inspired musical choices (Shakin’ Stevens plays over Bruce snorting coke and being sick in his car. Merry Christmas Everyone!) and you have a cocktail that adds up to one of the best movies of the year, that looks destined to be misunderstood as a vile piece of cinema when it’s really not.
Not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach its excesses (in every sense of the word) you’ll be rewarded with an over the top character study of a damaged soul with humour as black as its dark heart. And yes, that’s somehow a recommendation.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell, @Jonny_C85
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