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Based on a novel by Irvine Welsh (the writer of Trainspotting), Filth is a pitch black comedy and drama that features an excellent ensemble cast. Writer/director Jon S. Baird adapts this dark and surreal tale.
Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh. He is a racist, homophobe, misogynist and a downright unpleasant fella. He drinks, snorts cocaine, has sex and masturbates whenever possible. Bruce is one of a number of police detectives competing for a promotion and his chance comes when he is assigned to investigate the murder of a Japanese student. But soon his world starts to collapse around him as he succumbs to a mental breakdown.
Bruce is a truly vile individual, someone who only cares about himself. He manipulates other police officers to take them out of the running for the promotion. He makes the officers turn on each other; using one officer’s lack of endowment against him, having a kinky affair with the wife (Kate Dickie) of another detective (Brian McCardie) and causing conflict within the force by implying that one of the detectives is gay. He says the only female detective, Amanda (Imogen Poots), only got her job by performing sexual favors despite her being the only cop committed to case.
It’s not just his colleagues who he uses, Bruce also bullies a meek man, Clifford (Eddie Marsan), makes harassing calls to his wife (Shirley Henderson) and even blackmails an underaged girl to perform a sex act. McAvoy gives a brilliant performance as the nasty, self-centered individual and brings out some depth as Bruce has plenty of demons. McAvoy is very much like Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant, both are hooked onto sex, alcohol and their power and both have similar character arcs as they narrate through a number of storylines and their sins.
McAvoy is surrounded by a fantastic cast; some of the cream of British acting talent. There are talented young actors like Jamie Bell and Poots and seasoned hands like Jim Broadbent and Marsen. Shauna Macdonald as Carole, the other narrator of the movie is particularly noticeable, having an icy beauty and alluring looks. Downton Abbey‘s Joanne Froggatt is the most normal character in the movie, a regular woman who acts as a conscience for Bruce.
Filth is Baird’s second feature as director and he shows he has great potential. He is clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The titles at the beginning of Filth is a modernized version of the titles in the Kubrick classic and the attack on the Japanese student borrows the visual cues and framing of the attack on the tramp in A Clockwork Orange. Broadbent as the psychiatrist in Bruce’s mind sound and speaks like the character P.R. Deltoid. There is even a 2001: A Space Odyssey poster prominently in the office of the senior detective. Carole speaks to the camera in an altered sense of reality, akin to scenes in the film Bronson with the main character in the theater setting.
Baird starts Filth with a lot of energy, bringing the comedy to the forefront, playing on negative Scottish stereotypes and having flashy graphics such as the odds for the contenders for the Detective Inspector position and fantasy sequences in Bruce’s head. As Filth progresses, it turns into a more darker psychological drama as Bruce’s sense of reality starts to go.
Filth on the whole is strong movie, but there are faults to the adaptation. Filth is 90 minutes long and certain storylines seem to be reduced, such as Bruce’s visuals of the boy. Tracy-Ann Oberman, an actress who is a regular on British Television appears as nothing more than an extra; her part must have been cut.
Filth lives up to its name, having plenty of sleaze and debauchery. It is controversial and some viewers may hate it for its subject manner and lack of likeable characters, but it is a tour de force for McAvoy and shows Baird’s abilities as a filmmaker.