Filth – James McAvoy schemes his way to the top in Jon S. Baird’s weird and wonderful film adaptation

Corrupt and downright dirty Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) doesn’t so much as protect the streets of his hometown of Edinburgh as exploit them for his own gain. Bruce’s main mission in life is to get the highly coveted promotion to be the next Detective Inspector, and he will stop at nothing to get ahead of his fellow workmates in a bid to win that race. Repeat: NOTHING. After his first feature Cass (2008), Jon S. Baird writes and directs Filth (2013), adapting Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name to create something rude, wild and completely hilarious.

Bruce lives a life fuelled by sex, drugs, booze, and more sex. He is mean, sadistic and morally void – basically exactly the sort of person you wouldn’t want to take home to meet the family. In lesser hands he could have been completely despicable. However in Baird’s and James McAvoy’s hands he is a character who you not only instantly love to hate, but as you gradually get to know him a man who you start to feel sorry for, if not occasionally identify with. James McAvoy does a superb job as Bruce and is nearly unrecognisable as him after the usual heroes (super and otherwise) that he plays. He is perfect as this atrocious character, playing him with absolute relish and perfect comedic timing when needed. Yet McAvoy also brings a lot of pathos to this man, humanising him and showing that he is his own worst enemy. He is in turn utterly compelling to watch throughout as he brings this enigma of a heartless man to life.

Similarly in his brilliant script, Baird cleverly peels away the layers to Bruce so we slowly come to an understanding of him and why he is so damaged…and damaging to others. The story itself is shocking, but all the better for it. Obviously the comparisons to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Welsh’s Trainspotting (1996) are inevitable, mostly due to the same sort of hard-hitting subject matter and Welsh’s trademark dark humour that is present in both. And Baird’s script is filled with these sorts of hilarious and dark moments. In fact there is more than one instance in this in which you feel horrid for laughing at what is happening onscreen. This humour also comes out in the almost ‘comic-booky’ style that Baird has chosen – lots of fast gags and bright visuals, as well as many a sordid fantasy sequence that takes place in Bruce’s (warped) mind.

But then again Bruce isn’t the only perverted person you’ll find in Filth. All of the other characters on display are contemptible idiots as well, bar a couple who at least show the presence of a moral compass. And all are played superbly by an excellent ensemble cast. Particularly good are Jamie Bell as Ray Lennox, the young, naïve rookie and a cocaine addict to boot, Jim Broadbent as Bruce’s eccentric Aussie doctor who plagues his drug and booze-fuelled visions, and Martin Compston as a local thug (however is there a Scottish film in existence in which he doesn’t play that sort of character?). At the other end of the moral spectrum and really standing out in a supporting role is Eddie Marsan as Clifford Blades, a wonderfully befuddled man who Bruce befriends and mercilessly bullies. Shirley Henderson is also great as Clifford’s shrill wife Bunty, as well as Imogen Poots as Amanda Drummond, Bruce’s main rival for the Detective Inspector job. In fact, there are simply far too many great performances in Filth to mention one by one…but rest assured all involved are brilliant.

Despite the superb performances and the eccentric style that draws you in, the ending to Filth isn’t all that satisfying. After a mesmerising first and second act the pace starts to slow to a conclusion that gradually peters out, rather than sizzling and popping right up until the last minute. It is also an ending that is in danger of not being taken seriously by everyone – a real ‘Marmite’ moment which people will either accept, or end up hating as much as an M. Night Shyamalan film. Still the journey up until this point is fab and hysterical. This is James McAvoy’s finest role to date and an Irvine Welsh adaptation to rival Trainspotting, if not nearly surpass it. It is also a brilliant second feature from Jon S. Baird whose vivacious style and gorgeous visuals suit the unusual and garish subject matter. The weak-minded/stomached and easily offended will definitely want to avoid this though, or at least bring the smelling salts to keep themselves in check. For everyone else though, Filth is a glorious riot. Dive right in and get dirty.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on November 2, 2013.

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