Throughout watching Filth, yet another Irvine Welsh adaptation joining the likes of Trainspotting and Ecstasy, I had no time to react to what I was seeing. The film actually plays faster than your comprehension of the situation; from one breakneck scene to another your only reaction can just be to stare, jaw-dropped, at the barrage of drugs, sex, swearing and general filth of the title, whether in admiration, or in disgust. Filth is unforgettable. It will play on your mind for days afterwards; it will leave many speechless well after the final credits. There is nothing else quite like Filth on in the cinema at the moment, and also nothing quite as exceptionally good either. It’s wild, it’s crazy, and it is one of the best films of the year.
Bruce Robertson, the most dirty and crooked of all coppers (played by James McAvoy), is vying for a well sought after promotion, and to get it he plans to manipulate the other front runners for the job into public humiliation, in a show of psychological warfare he refers to as ‘the games’. While attempting to pick off his colleagues one by one, he is also dealing with a murder investigation of a Japanese student, and the combined pressure of these tasks, plus snorting more cocaine and drinking more whiskey than even he can handle, truly pushes him to the edge of his sanity. He starts hearing voices, he starts seeing terrifying things that no one else can, and his scheme for promotion slowly spirals out of control, along with his life. It can’t have been easy to have written an adapted screenplay from this particular novel; many classed the book as unfilmable due to its wild and controversial nature, plus a bizarre narrative structure which at one point involves a talking tapeworm. Nevertheless, the screenplay is exceptional, the dialogue crisp and exciting, and the direction fantastic, and for all of these things we have newcomer John S. Baird to thank, who on his directorial debut excels, and on adapting an ‘unfilmable’ book has really put his own personal stamp onto the project, even if the original writing of Irvine Welsh is there for all to see. Filth never pauses for breath, and never stops retaining the fierce energy that makes it such a guilty pleasure.
James McAvoy is extraordinary in Filth. His performance is remarkable, and to say he completely and extravagantly steals the show is a huge understatement. His screen presence is fantastic, and in an almost Shakespearean touch, he occasionally looks and performs a little speech to the audience, cackling like a hyena as he does so. Although the film has been advertised as a comedy, his performance is often terrifying, and the final scene will stay with you for a long time. If the movie itself wasn’t so wild and controversial and downright filthy, I would recommend James McAvoy for an Oscar; it’s the finest performance of his career so far, and he really highlights what an exceptional talent he is throughout the movie. Every twitch, every sniff and every horrible, terrifying laugh is utterly believable and entirely engrossing. The film actually relies on creating sympathy for this character apparently without morals, without grace and without heart, but it is entirely to McAvoy’s credit that he pulls it off. Bruce Robertson is outrageous and he does entertain, but towards the end of the movie his madness increases and his life rapidly unravels, and James McAvoy pulls us down with the character, through the corruption and tragedy of this confused, bitter mans’ life. A different director, a different actor, and maybe Filth becomes a lot less interesting; most of the challenge in making this film is the conundrum of how to create sympathy for such a disgusting character. John S. Baird and James McAvoy absolutely nail it, and this sense of pathos towards Bruce Robertson is the film’s greatest triumph.
For me, Filth is many things: brilliant, exciting, stylish and jaw-dropping to name but a few. One thing it isn’t though is subtle, and this may be a problem for some people. Filth never holds back, and its scummy, oppressive atmosphere hardly ever lets up, and in some ways it can be quite an unpleasant experience. Obviously, and unsurprisingly, some people won’t like it; it isn’t a mainstream film, nor is it an overwhelmingly likeable film. Also, while the film is being advertised as a comedy, it isn’t actually that funny, which many will be disappointed with. I don’t believe John S. Baird set out to make a comedy when he adapted this Irvine Welsh novel, although there is a very black satirical comedic edge running through it. There is no real way to describe Filth; it isn’t a comedy, nor is it a drama, nor is it a thriller. It is a unique experience that whether you like it or not, is absolutely essential to see this year.
The ending had me breathless. No spoilers here, but it really is a stunning piece of cinema. It’s a cinematic moment which I am never likely to forget.
It is so intense, so unforgiving, and so brutal, that it can easily be mistaken for a film that is controversial for the sake of shocking people, which while cannot be further from the truth, also highlights how perhaps the film goes a little too far in conveying its story. This is hardly a criticism; the film is called Filth, but it can be seen as an aggressive atmosphere and tone, which will no doubt alienate many people as a result.
Filth is one of the most controversial, wild and shocking films of the year, and also one of the best. It’s a fantastic piece of modern cinema, one which is challenging and brave in its execution, bolstered by a jaw-dropping performance by James McAvoy as corrupt copper Bruce Robertson. Not only has Filth reminded us all of the enormous talent James McAvoy holds, but it has also introduced the world to a very promising new filmmaker in John S. Baird. An extraordinary and admirable film.