In just the first fifteen minutes of “Filth,” the audience watches as crooked detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) sleeps with another man’s wife, satisfies his insatiable drug habit, and gives the middle finger to a harmless kid. Forget filth. This cop is downright vile. Yet, star James McAvoy, along with writer/director Jon S. Baird (Cass), adeptly find a way to make even the lowest of low somehow relatable on screen. Bruce Robertson certainly isn’t going to be given a medal for his integrity and valor, but McAvoy’s acting definitely deserves some praise.
Based on a novel by Irvine Walsh, the same author that penned “Trainspotting,” Baird approaches the source material in much the same way that director Danny Boyle did when making his mid-nineties breakthrough hit. Just like Ewan McGregor spent most of “Trainspotting” wandering from one drugged out stupor to the next, so too does “Filth’s” leading-man Bruce Robertson. From beginning to end, Robertson seems to be perpetually riding some sort of drug induced high.
The tones and style of the film itself also offer plenty of hallucinogenic qualities. Quick edits, unconnected subplots, and an ever-changing cast of barnyard animal cameos all create a sense of earthly abandonment and complete and utter filmic disarray.
When it comes to a discernable story, the audience meets Bruce at his absolute worst. Sure, he might be a detective in Scotland on the verge of a huge promotion, but based on nonstop internal monologue, the audience quickly comes to second-guess everything Bruce’s drug addled mind tells us. The only concrete fact in his life is the current murder investigation he is currently heading. This case, if successful, could also be the determining factor on whether or not he gets the cushy new job.
As it has already been made disgustingly clear, Bruce leads a double life. While he goes through the motions as a police officer, he would much rather be fueling his raging drug habit or using his law powers to score drugs, gain sexual favors, and destroy the lives of every human being he comes in contact with. If there ever was a character that so fully embodied the idea that cops are pigs, it’s detective Bruce Robertson.
While he won’t be receiving nearly as much public attention as he did for his turn as Professor X in the mainstream “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” star James McAvoy nonetheless seems to be having the time of his life in this leading role. Whether he is gleefully smashing a criminal’s face in with his bare fists or sexually harassing one of his longtime friend’s wives, McAvoy plays the part with gusto.
Even while at his most diabolical, the value of having such a charismatic lead as McAvoy allows Robertson’s soft-side to come out from time to time. While the character is irredeemable, McAvoy allows for the most unsavory bits of the film to go down a little easier because he is such a likeable guy in real life. Yes, the timid members of the audience should take solace in the idea that McAvoy, the actor, is the complete opposite of the boorish caricature presented on screen.
Joining McAvoy on this crude chronicle is a strong supporting cast. Principle among these is Jamie Bell (Man on a Ledge), who plays one of Robertson’s coked up cop friends, and Imogen Poots (Need for Speed), a hard-working rookie cop. Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes), playing McAvoy’s downtrodden best friend, is also fantastic.
Lasting a breezy ninety-seven minutes, Baird keeps his film moving at a spastic clip. Taking a page from fellow Welsh adaptor Danny Boyle, Baird uses a pop and vintage infused soundtrack — put together by Clint Mansell (Black Swan) — that adds quite a bit of irony to all of the depravity depicted on screen.
The choice in music and the light and loose cinematography from Matthew Jensen (Chronicle), might help ease some of the viewer’s moral qualms about its content, but Robertson's dark personality will still probably turn off most viewers. Let’s just say, the movie is not called “Filth” for nothing.
If you’re a huge fan of Welsh or familiar with McAvoy’s habit of playing rather dark characters in indie movies — take last year’s “Trance” for example — you should already know what you're getting into. While the film as a whole isn’t going to be mentioned come award season, it's still a darkly funny, unique, and refreshing take on the typical police narrative.
For those filmgoers who enjoy watching the more unsavory aspects of the human psyche deteriorate on screen, “Filth” is worth checking out — just make sure you take a shower afterward, because things get pretty dirty.
By David Morris
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language and some violence