There are very few films that come out now where the title is the perfect description of the film. Filth is one of those films. It’s completely foul, repugnant, messed up and is basically taking the 18 rating as far as it can possibly go, and I really enjoyed it. This is a film where all the fucked up insanity helps add to the experience rather than taking the audience out of it and is a film that must be seen to be believed.
The plot of the film concerns Bruce Robertson, a policeman in Edinburgh who is investigating the murder of a Japanese student, whilst also vying for a promotion which he believes will improve his life, mainly his relationship with his family. To this extent, Robertson will lie, cheat, steal and do all manner of depraved things to make sure that his colleagues stay down in the running whilst he goes all the way to the top. Along the way, we also see Robertson’s mental health slowly start to break down. This is probably the hardest of Irvine Welsh’s books to adapt to the screen. All the lurid details regarding Robertson’s sex and drug addictions, as well as his very open racism, misogyny and mental health problems could be catastrophic if done in the wrong hands, but Jon Baird handles all this stuff really well, mainly in the fact that you are meant to find Robertson as loathsome as the description of him implies. Since you are meant to hate Robertson, and all the stuff he does gets more and more insane, you find yourself laughing at some of these moments, even though everything inside you tells you that you shouldn’t be laughing. Granted, there are some elements of the book that couldn’t be adapted to the screen no matter what. A key part of the book is that some of the text is eaten away by a tapeworm growing inside Robertson. Now it is pretty much impossible to bring this aspect of the book to the screen and as such, hallucinatory scenes with Jim Broadbent as Robertson’s psychiatrist take their place which add to the insanity of the film. There are some elements of this insanity that don’t work as well though. The appearance of David Soul felt really out of place and some of the tonal shifts at the end of the film don’t fully work for me. That said, the overall insanity of this film is present all the way through.
The main reason why you should watch this film though is for James McAvoy. He gives the best performance of his career as Bruce Robertson, undergoing a complete flip of his traditional screen persona to play this repulsive character. Everything that McAvoy could do to get this character right he does and does it incredibly well. At one point, he literally makes himself sick to fully go into Robertson. This is a true powerhouse performance and if there’s any justice, McAvoy will at least be nominated for a BAFTA for this role. The other performances are all great as well. Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Emun Elliot, Gary Lewis and John Sessions are all great as the other police officers in the film. All of them start of as stereotypes, from Jamie Bell as Ray Lennox, the drugged up rookie with inadequacy issues to Imogen Poots as Amanda Drummond, believed to be someone who shagged her way to the top. Over the course of the film though, we see all these people become fully formed characters and the skill of the performances help this. Joanne Froggatt is also on hand as Mary, someone who shows that Robertson still has some good left in him. Eddie Marsan is a lot of fun as Bladesy, he is constantly the butt of Robertson’s cruel jokes and is incredibly timid, which Marsan plays really well but the best stuff he does is when the character is let loose and these scenes are the highlight of the film. As stated earlier, Jim Broadbent has a good role as Robertson’s psychiatrist and he’s having a lot of fun in the role, but he does come across as underutilised, the same problem going to Bell, Poots and Marsan, although the limited roles of all of these are in service to the magnificent performance from McAvoy.
Overall, Filth is probably the most messed up film I’ve seen this year. Every single thing in this film just keeps building the insanity so much that, despite your best intentions, you can’t help but laugh at some of these moments. That said, the film knows when to put in the dramatic moments, aided by great direction from Baird (who is clearly taking a lot of inspiration from Kubrick for this film) and a tour-de-force performance from James McAvoy. I cannot guarantee that you’ll like the film but one thing’s for sure, you will definitely remember it.
My Rating: 4.5/5