f i l t h
4th October 2013
Jon S. Baird
6th October 2013
It’s been a while since we’ve been treated to some of Irvine Welsh’s peculiar brand of acerbic Scottish wit on the big screen. Trainspotting was a long time ago now and it looks as if we’re going to have to wait until 2016 to catch the sequel Porno. Efforts since then have failed to raise much conversation. In the meantime we have this adaptation of Welsh’s 1998 novel, starring the immense talent that is James McAvoy.
Filth tells the dark tale of a Scottish detective, rapidly self destructing after being left by his wife and daughter whilst he tries to balance an epic drink problem, a burgeoning libido and a murder investigation which may assist his attempted promotion.
Where to start with Filth? I guess the first thing I’d flag this early on is that I can’t really label this as a comedy, not even a black one. I’m a huge fan of jet black humour but this movie just isn’t funny enough to earn that description. Which is only a small issue if you take the movie at face value but does make you wonder why it’s been marketed as a riotous black comedy. Maybe I’ve misread the promotional material, but check the trailer below and see what you think. It’s not the film that makes out.
Which I think is to its credit. There are occasional laughs but for the most part this is a dizzying portrayal of a man in full on self destruct mode. It takes a while for it to become clear that McAvoy’s Robertson is living a complete lie with his colleagues, blithely answering questions about his loving family before returning home to his festering digs. McAvoy is superb in the role, it’s difficult to imagine it being fulfilled so well by any other actor. He is at once seething, slimy, vicious, spiteful, vindictive, misogynistic, desperate, lonely, pathetic.... it’s all boiling away under McAvoy’s bearded grin. Yet, you still feel yourself wanting him to grasp the one piece of redemption that is thrown at him. You can’t quite feel yourself giving up on him completely, no matter how loathsome his behaviour.
The supporting cast does well too. Broadbent’s hideous doctor, seen mostly in dream sequences is great fun, whilst Eddie Marsan peers out incredulously from behind some spectacularly poor eyewear as Robertson’s best friend (a label that makes Robertson even more sad given his intention to frame the friend for making perverted phone calls to his own wife - something Robertson is in fact guilty of). David Soul even pops up at one stage.
It’s difficult to discuss too many of Filth’s plot details without giving away some kind of spoiler as the movie twists and turns throughout. Robertson’s lame attempt at getting treatment only leads him to Broadbent’s repulsive pill distributing doctor, adding yet more drugs into his already addled system. Plagued by the ghost of his younger brother, voices in his head and terrifying images of a variety of farmyard animals, his grip on reality slips ever further into the abyss as he attempts to stitch up his colleagues in order to secure the promotion for which it seems he would have been a shoe-in for before his terrible mental fall.
Baird has created a superbly amoral version of Scotland, oozing with corrupt coppers, seedy sex dens and largely horrific characters. Robertson’s visions are brutal and come as a genuine shock, giving us a horrible view of his mental state. Enough is kept back to get us thinking about how he got to this state but not so much as to make it incomprehensible. I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoyed Filth, in many ways it’s a black comedy without the punchlines but as a study of a damaged individual not only staring into the abyss but positively hammering towards it, it takes some beating. McAvoy’s performance will be long talked about, he brings an immense depth and even sympathy to a character who could easily just have been a repulsive alcoholic and although we never really believe he is capable of redemption, we just about hope that he finds some.
Check out the trailer here.