Filth * * * *
Director: Jon S. Baird.
Screenplay: Jon S. Baird.
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots, John Sessions, Gary Lewis, Brian McCardie, Emun Elliott, Martin Compston, Shirley Henderson, Kate Dickie, Shauna Macdonald, Iain De Caestecker, Ron Donachie, Natasha O’Keeffe, Jonathan Watson, David Soul.
As the year draws to a close, so does the (unrelated) British trilogy of James McAvoy leading roles. He began with the disappointingly generic “Welcome To The Punch” before moving on to the teasingly elaborate “Trance” before finally heading back to his native Scotland to tackle “Filth” – the ‘unfilmable’ novel by cult writer Irvine Welsh. Since “Trainspotting” in 1996, Welsh’s material hasn’t really been given an adaptation deserving of his talents, but here, director Jon S. Baird delves (groin first) into Welsh’s unrelenting prose and delivers a sharp, sordid and deeply debauched, delight of a film.
Roaming the Edinburgh streets is Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy). He’s not your average cop, though, but one that’s as corrupt as they come. After a marriage break-up, he’s become a hard-drinker with an out of control cocaine habit, leaving him mentally unstable. All of which are getting in the way of his police work and his ambition for promotion to Detective Inspector.
In bringing a very difficult novel to the screen, Baird deserves the utmost credit; he captures the surreal and uncompromising, gallows humour of Welsh’s work – and characters – while avoiding the inevitable pitfalls that comparisons with “Trainspotting” might bring.
Some omissions from the book have be made, namely the talking tapeworm which was a prominent feature. This time it manifests through Robertson’s psyche in the shape of crazed Australian psychiatrist Jim Broadbent. This is probably the only part of the movie that isn’t entirely successful but it’s a good attempt to incorporate it anyway.
Anyone familiar with the work of playwright and author, Dennis Potter (“The Singing Detective“, “Lipstick on Your Collar“), will rejoice in the hallucinatory moments provided here, and in particular, a bizarre song and dance number by none other than David Soul from 70’s television show “Starksy and Hutch“, while others will recall Abel Ferrara’s brutal and unrelenting “Bad Lieutenant“.
As for the performances, everyone involved is absolutely superb; Brian McCardie is a grizzling treat while John Sessions, Gary Lewis and Jamie Bell all bring wonderful comic timing to their roles. Eddie Marsan also continues his great run of character acting in a tragic turn as Bladesey – Robertson’s only true friend – and a friend whom the salacious Detective has no qualms about harassing his wife, Bunty (played excellently by the kooky and vastly underrated Shirley Henderson) with prank, sexual phone calls.
Behind all the madness and misanthropy, though, is a fully committed McAvoy who commands the screen entirely. There really are no depths to which his racist, homophobic and sociopathic Bruce Robertson won’t stoop. With a raging labido and spiralling cocaine and alcohol habit, he elicits oral sex from an underage girl, has sexual relations with his colleagues’ wives and indulges in regular, furious, masturbation, meanwhile, double-crossing and manipulating everyone in his path.
Complete with pallid complexion, bulging blood-shot eyes and scraggly ginger facial hair, this truly abhorrent human being is detestable in both manner and appearance (according to the actor himself, he was actually hungover most days on the set to fully capture the authenticity). Superlatives have been lavished McAvoy’s way for fearlessly tackling this very challenging role, and rightfully so. Despite, his objectionable and distasteful characteristics, he (very surprisingly) manages to bring a humanity to the role that’s not without saddening moments of fragility and extreme pathos. For anyone that might not be convinced by McAvoy’s talents, this is the role to silence his critics. He’s simply outstanding. The Academy will, more than likely, overlook his commitment here (as they did with Michael Fassbender in “Shame“) but that won’t stop his performance remaining one of the very best of the year. He really is that good.
Lewd, crude and deliriously dark and humorous. Those familiar with Irvine Welsh’s razor sharp prose will take great delight here, while others should be warmed that the title of the movie says it all really.