Get bent: a major career refresh for James McAvoy who excels as an insanely crooked copper.
"I’m not well.” Roughly three-quarters of the way into Filth, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robinson (James McAvoy) has just stated the obvious. Eyes bloodshot and half-glazed, cheek pressed despairingly into the carpet having been forcibly degraded by a fellow officer’s adulterous spouse, the reality of having cast himself as the bad guy in the R-rated movie of his life is finally sinking in. When the entire supporting cast thinks you’re playing the good guy, it’s only a matter of time before the wingnuts begin to wobble.
For the uniformed antihero in director Jon S Baird’s faithfully explicit, vocabulary-expanding adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s 1998 novel, the slope to the bottom has been a steep and spectacularly self-destructive one. Fuelled by a lethal cocktail of hard substance abuse and sexual exploitation, Bruce has been habitually indulging in the sort of extracurricular debauchery that would make the cast of scat-porn viral sensation 2 Girls 1 Cup blush. But this latest low point is not the cue for the kind of cathartic enlightenment you might be expecting. Filth isn’t that kind of movie.
Whether bullying milk-bottom spec’d bezzie mate Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), crank dialing “Bladesey’s” timid wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson) or generally terrorising his Lothian Constabulary colleagues — namely promotion- jockeying hotshot Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots) and impressionable rookie Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) — there’s something morbidly entertaining about watching this little piggy go to town on his closest acquaintances. We shouldn’t be laughing with Bruce. He is, after all, a vindictive racist bigot who almost exclusively uses his position of authority to sin rather than to serve. And yet McAvoy brings a certain dirty charm to the role, striking just the right balance between lunacy and empathy to draw us further and further into his character’s volatile orbit.
Bruce’s increasingly misanthropic exploits, which he aptly nicknames ‘the Games’, mask a complex and serious affliction. Make no mistake; this is principally a wickedly funny and at times frightening character study. Yet through its frank and unflinching depiction of mental illness — in this case bipolar disorder rooted in an unresolved psychological trauma from Bruce’s childhood — Baird’s film lands an emotional punch that will catch you off guard.
In its most jarringly surreal moments — an inspired late night drive scene featuring David Soul miming his hit single ‘Silver Lady’, complete with dolled-up backing singers; a series of nightmarish fantasy sequences featuring a prosthetically mutated Jim Broadbent as the maniacal Dr Rossi (a clear nod to Alex’s psychiatrist in A Clockwork Orange) Filth is a subversive carnivalesque romp. At its most grounded it is a slyly compassionate and knowingly cartoonish portrait of working class Scottish life.
That Filth’s schizophrenic mood so closely echoes Bruce’s terminally unhinged personality is testament to Baird’s expert handling of Welsh’s peculiarly idiosyncratic source novel. Yet while this tonal instability is invigorating for the most part, it’s also occasionally frustrating. If you’ve got the stomach for it, there’s something strangely life- affirming to take away from this bold and uncompromising immorality tale. Like Bruce’s myriad vices, however, you can’t help but wonder whether Filth might be best taken in small doses.
Irvine Welsh’s other great ’90s novel finally gets the big screen treatment.
Funny, fearless and full of surprises.
A film this salty is always likely to leave an odd taste in the mouth.