Scottish author Irvine Welsh made his name with the novel Trainspotting, which was turned into a very successful 1996 movie that created numerous Hollywood careers in the process, but subsequent attempts to adapt his work haven't been close to as successful. Jon S. Baird's adaptation of the novel Filth was a similarly low-key, unprofitable cinema release (earning £3.8m from a £3m budget), but is perhaps the closest thing a filmmaker's come to echoing Trainspotting on a creative level. Baird's no Danny Boyle, but Filth has a similarly bleak and crazy tone that should endear it to many.
Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a misanthropic, deceitful, conniving, hard-drinking, womanising, drug-taking breakdown of a man. Unfortunately, he's also a Detective Sergeant working the mean streets of Edinburgh; chasing a promotion using underhanded means, whilst trying to solve the murder of a Japanese student kicked to death by a street gang.
Filth is given life by the shock-value of witnessing such an untrustworthy bully in a position of authority, and to its credit never winces from portraying Bruce's antics as reprehensible. He's the "dirty caller" to the wife of a fellow Freemason called Clifford (Eddie Marsan) whom he grows to call a friend, demands oral sex from an under-age girl by threatening to tell her upstanding father, and hinders the career prospects of his own co-workers in a desperate bid to become the station's new Detective Inspector by impressing his boss (John Sessions).
Bladesey: What made you join the Force?And yet, of course, Bruce isn't a totally unsympathetic creep. Once the initial flurry of bad behaviour subsides, we start to realise the underlying causes of his reckless behaviour—partly through random hallucinations that interrupt his reality, and dream-like exchanges with his Australian psychiatrist (Jim Broadbent) who's helping him control his bipolar disorder.
Bruce: Police oppression, brother.
Bladesey: You wanted to stamp it out from the inside?
Bruce: No, I wanted to be a part of it.
McAvoy gives one of his best performances in the role of bigoted Bruce, managing to utilise his dual ability to be genuinely unkempt and unpleasant, while also maintaining a friendly twinkle in his eyes (no matter how deeply buried). Most importantly, you're never rewarded with a vicarious thrill watching Bruce's debauched behaviour, you just have a growing sense of relief there's a better human being trying to get out—and offered a lifeline by the single mother and widow (Joanne Froggatt) of a man Bruce failed to save the life of.
If Filth suffers from anything, it's perhaps the fact it sometimes feels like a sequence of ideas and set-pieces hoisted together under a loose storyline. It doesn't quite manage to make a deep enough emotional connection for the climax to pay-off in a serious way, although there's a decent twist in the tale and a deliciously downbeat final shot. It's pretty much all its target audience want, to be fair, and is given a significant boost by assembling a terrific cast of actors: particularly Jamie Bell as Bruce's coke-snorting partner with a small manhood, and the aforementioned Marsan (who's cornering the market in "funny dweeby friend of a debauched alpha male", thanks to this and Edgar Wright's The World's End.)
Steel Mill Pictures & Film i Väst | Lionsgate Home Entertainment | 97 mins.