Review – Filth

For a supposedly ‘unfilmable’ novel, Jon S. Baird has made a pretty impressive stab at bringing Irvine Welsh’s blackly comic tale of cops, corruption, cocaine to the big screen.

Filth may live up (and down) to its title, but from the gutter comes a darkly funny, uncompromising and uniquely British moviegoing experience that has at its core one of the year's very best performances

Filth may live up (and down) to its title, but from the gutter comes a darkly funny, uncompromising and uniquely British moviegoing experience that has at its core one of the year’s very best performances

This is helped in no small part by James McAvoy, whose powerhouse central performance as bent Detective Bruce Robertson makes Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant look like Dixon of Dock Green.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) ain't your average copper in Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) ain’t your average copper in Filth

Robertson is one of the most memorable characters in Welsh’s arsenal of literary creations, an utterly squalid and repellant human being who’s prepared to back-stab, double-cross and shaft his way to a promotion within Edinburgh’s Lothian constabulary.

The veneer of superiority, cockiness and self-entitlement starts to crack, however, and the self-loathing, insecurity and nihilism that’s always been there creeps to the surface as Robertson implodes in a shitstorm of cocaine, pills and hard liquor.

Watching the Detectives - Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell), Peter Inglis (Emun Elliot), Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) and Dougie Gillman (Brian McCardie) in Filth

Watching the Detectives – Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell), Peter Inglis (Emun Elliot), Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) and Dougie Gillman (Brian McCardie) in Filth

On the face of it, Filth sounds as appealing a prospect as spending the day with its central character, but Baird (who also wrote the screenplay) understands there has to more to Robertson than the monster we first see.

Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge overcame a similar challenge when working on Welsh’s Trainspotting by finding the humanity – and humour – within a group of heroin addicts. It’s a tough nut to crack, but McAvoy somehow manages to elicit our sympathy for a character whose litany of truly abhorrent deeds would normally have you rooting for his grisly demise. Using his strikingly expressive eyes, McAvoy show the pain that undercuts the rage and mischievousness, a pain that’s rooted in a tragic back story that gradually reveals itself.

Things ain't looking great for Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) in Filth

Things ain’t looking great for Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) in Filth

I’ve never been McAvoy’s biggest fan, thinking him too lightweight an actor for the demands of the characters he’s played in the likes of The Last King Of Scotland and this year’s Welcome To The Punch. However, in what’s by far his best performance to date, he brings a real physicality to the role, supplanting those boyish good looks with a bloated demeanour and scraggly beard.

Brits abroad Bladesey (Eddie Marsan) and Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) in Filth

Brits abroad Bladesey (Eddie Marsan) and Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) in Filth

Robertson may a nasty piece of work, but most of those around him are far from perfect. His colleagues are mostly either bigoted, homophobic, useless or coke-heads, while others around him paddle in the same moral sewer he dives into. Perhaps the only truly ‘good’ person he knows is his only real friend, Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), although even that’s tainted due to the fact he’s targeting his vampish wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson) with anonymous dirty phone calls.

Both Marsan and Henderson (who also recently played a married couple in the acclaimed UK miniseries Southcliffe) are both as excellent as you’d expect, as are many of the supporting cast, including John Sessions as Robertson’s colourful boss Bob Toal, Gary Lewis as the nice but dim Gus Bain and Jamie Bell as Robertson’s coke-addicted partner Ray Lennox.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) confronts his talking tapeworm (Jim Broadbent) in Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) confronts his talking tapeworm (Jim Broadbent) in Filth

Jim Broadbent also gets to have some fun playing a massively over-the-top Australian shrink, the talking manifestation of a tapeworm inside Robertson’s body that’s assisting his mental collapse. The ‘talking tapeworm’ sections of Welsh’s book were always going to be a particularly challenging trick to pull off and, it has to be said, it doesn’t quite work; if for no other reason then it’s not made terribly clear to those who haven’t read the novel what Broadbent’s character is supposed to represent.

In a nice touch, the car Robertson drives (and occasionally sleeps in) features ‘KES’ as part of its number plate, a nod to Ken Loach’s iconic debut film of the same name.

Filth may live up (and down) to its title, but from the gutter comes a darkly funny, uncompromising and uniquely British moviegoing experience that has at its core one of the year’s very best performances.

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17 comments

  1. Mark Walker · October 11, 2013

    Here! Here! Totally agree on everything you’ve said Mark. Broadbent’s tapeworm isn’t fully explained but McAvoy is absolutely outstanding.

    • Three Rows Back · October 11, 2013

      Cheers man! Not up there with the quality of your review though sir!

      • Mark Walker · October 11, 2013

        Oh, I don’t know about that. You done a sterling job, sir. I found that we pointed out a lot of similarities. We seemed to be on the same page with this one. 🙂

      • Three Rows Back · October 11, 2013

        Most definitely!

  2. lukebbtt · October 11, 2013

    The office party photocopier game was fantastic haha. I was in tears, laughing.

    • Three Rows Back · October 11, 2013

      Yeah, the look on Jamie Bell’s face during that scene was great.

  3. Tyson Carter · October 15, 2013

    I just cant stand Mcavoy……..really dislike him so will probably have to give this a miss. 😦

    • Three Rows Back · October 16, 2013

      I hear what you’re saying. I haven’t been his biggest fan but I think this might change your opinion.

  4. Tom · October 15, 2013

    Hmm…interesting. I think I’ve seen or two promos for this but have since forgotten about it. Might be a good one to check out by the sounds of it, I like McAvoy and only have Trance (I think) as a reference for his abilities. He sounds much better here. Great review dude.

    • Three Rows Back · October 16, 2013

      Much obliged as always. It’s a different film to Trainspotting, although it obviously shares some similarities. And McAvoy is fantastic, no doubt about it.

  5. Movie Review World · October 16, 2013

    Nice Review . For me McAvoy truly knocked it out the park and elevated the film to a whole new level. It was a delightfully filthy experience and I cant wait to catch it again. I spoke to the director on twitter not to long ago and he hinted at adapting Irvine Welsh’s CRIME – the sequel to Filth for the big screen. My fingers are crossed 😛

    Here’s my review: http://www.moviereviewworld.com/movie-review/filth-film-review/

    • Three Rows Back · October 16, 2013

      Really? Good effort sir, that’s interesting Baird could direct Crime. I’d look forward to another of his adaptations. Will head on over to your review.

      • Movie Review World · October 16, 2013

        Yeh, true story. Kind of an exclusive I guess, Irvine Welsh was also in the conversation so I guess that’s a good sign of it actually coming to fruition.

  6. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · October 16, 2013

    Nicely done sir. Really hoping to see this before it disappears. Sounds like McAvoy is on stellar form so I want to check him out.

    • Three Rows Back · October 16, 2013

      Much appreciated! McAvoy is awesome and I don’t say that lightly. He’s worth the price of admission alone.

  7. Lights Camera Reaction · November 8, 2013

    Superb review! Glad you liked it.

    Filth isn’t an easy watch. I couldn’t shake it off me for a few hours on initial viewing. Featuring the best male performance this year from James McAvoy. I can’t get over how good McAvoy is here. Bruce isn’t an easy character to play and McAvoy beautifully captures his features, playing someone whom is mentally unstable, fragile and deeply troubled.

    I look forward to his upcoming performances.

    • Three Rows Back · November 8, 2013

      Much appreciated. Glad you liked it too! McAvoy absolutely knocks it out of the park here, a truly raw and honest performance.

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