Cast: James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, John Sessions
Running time: 97mins
The lowdown: A bent copper movie based on a novel from Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, you know Filth ain’t gonna be pretty. But, little can prepare for you this coke n’ booze fuelled blast through the Christmas period of James McAvoy’s particularly unwell policeman. McAvoy is a revelation as the sick dick, manipulating and taunting those around him, while indulging in all kinds of naughty business. Exhilarating, shocking, stylish and with laughs that get stuck in the throat, this is all the right kinds of wrong.
The full verdict: Fitting in some ways that Filth is set at Christmas time, as John S. Baird’s movie often resembles a pantomime performed by the criminally insane in the deepest, darkest corner of Purgatory.
With the audience yelling, “Oh, he won’t do that!” “Oh no, he won’t!” “Ahhh, he did!”
Trainspotting employed bursts of fantasy to punctuate the (stylish) realism, but writer/director Baird dives deep into the hallucinatory, nightmarish mindset of Detective Bruce Robertson (though the tapeworm of the book is here reduced to a Cronenbergian cameo).
Orchestrating this hellish bacchanalia is James McAvoy, giving a fearless performance as the worst policeman since Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant. Chunky, with heavy beard, sunken eyes, and contemptuous stare or sickly grin plastered across his face, the Scot’s Robertson is as irresistible a monster as Malcolm McDowell’s sociopath in A Clockwork Orange (visually referenced here).
A loose plot has the Machiavellian copper plotting to overthrow his fellow officers for an upcoming promotion and the murder of a Japanese student.
But, that is just window dressing for the movie’s real interest – one man’s descent into his own created Hell. Erotic-asphyxiation, underage sex, violence, racism, homophobia, an intense Hamburg weekend break and terrifying animal masks; this Hell is vividly depicted by Baird (director of football hooligan doc Cass), offset by a bold vein of ink black humour.
Eddie Marsan as Robertson’s buttoned down best mate, Jamie Bell as his put upon underling, Imogen Poots as a colleague unaffected by his oily charms and Jim Broadbent as a bizarre Aussie doctor are just some of the players on Bruce’s filthy stage.
And yet, despite the bile and misanthropy, Baird and McAvoy pull off the impossible by humanising this human cesspit, through effective flashbacks and suggestions of past trauma that have produced Bruce in all his appalling glory.
A late in the day twist is likely to turn off some who have made it that far, although it remains true to the film’s spirit and Welsh’s source novel. A suggestion of redemption may also irk some sections of the audience, but for all the shock value this is a movie with soul (and David Soul).
Calling Filth the best Irvine Welsh adaptation since Trainspotting damns it with zero praise. Who saw, let alone liked, The Acid House or Ecstasy?.
Rather this joins the ranks of A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho, Naked Lunch and, yes Trainspotting, as a brilliant adaptation of incredibly difficult source material.
Promotions all round.