Filth

Release: Friday, April 25, 2014 (limited) 

[Netflix]

Written by:  Jon S. Baird

Directed by: Jon S. Baird 

What’s that old adage — nice guys finish last? Nice guys are also chumps.

James McAvoy as Scottish Detective Sergeant Bruce Robinson added that last part. It wasn’t me. I’m not the guy bumping a line or two before work, before meetings (before anything for that matter); not the guy almost literally cutting throats to get ahead, to get that coveted Detective Inspector promotion. I would never use a woman like Bruce would over a phone. I guess never say never, because I’m not sure what I’m fully capable of.

After all, I did find myself identifying perhaps a little too easily with his self-destructiveness. I found myself enjoying Filth for what it is rather than what it could have been: this is a story that enjoys that last burning cigarette before undergoing chemotherapy for its lung cancer. Nothing like that actually happens (though Bruce enjoys a cigarette for sure) but its reckless abandon and willful sinning is undeniably infectious.

Jon S. Baird drowns his character study in a hallucinogenic spirit that’s as fun as it is toxic. Based on an Irvine Welsh novel, Filth starts off pessimistic and ends accordingly, somewhat miserably. But McAvoy is just so good it doesn’t even matter if the tone vacillates between bleak and upbeat, suggesting a Fear & Loathing in Edinburgh, and that his character is uncharacteristically vile. Consistency isn’t what this relatively low-budgeted production was ever aiming for. It strips away illusion to reveal the ugliness of reality, a man coping with his life after a terrible event. Overcompensating, perhaps, but dealing with it in what may be the only way he can. Rarely is he justified in his actions — his abuse of friends and lady friends is shameful — and his abuse of narcotics and abuse of power while on the job are equally outrageous.

Bruce is assigned to oversee the investigation of the murder of a Japanese student, and though he believes this is the opportunity he needs to advance himself, he begins suffering from a series of emotional setbacks that gradually spiral out of control. Filth revels in squalidity not unlike the self-inflicted nightmare Raoul Duke and his attorney experienced en route to discovering the American Dream of the 1970s. In Filth, a film that seems to try to repel rather than entice — those who like their stories upbeat and expect some sort of method to the madness ought to give this a miss — things go from bad to worse and when they don’t seem to be able to get any more disorienting there’s always Jim Broadbent as Dr. Rossi to ensure Dorothy continues tumbling down the rabbit hole.

Filth isn’t particularly ambitious, despite the commitment from its lead. Where at first Baird’s screenplay seems to suggest a complex police procedural, there comes a point where it becomes apparent the narrative has little interest in anything beyond delving deeper into the mindset of a most corrupt detective. Unfortunately it takes some time before that awareness hits; surely I’m not the only one who arrived at the end feeling somewhat duped. Of course, there’s something I should have expected to sacrifice watching McAvoy making obscene gestures towards small children in public places and being a general douche, and if this film delivers on any promise it’s ensuring he may lose a few fans. Or he may gain some. I don’t really know. I do know that the red beard suits him though.

Despite the underachieving story, the production is bolstered by all-around great performances; entertaining turns from the likes of Eddie Marsan as Clifford Blades, a member of a masonic lodge Bruce is a part of, Imogen Poots as Drummond with whom Bruce is in the fiercest competition regarding that coveted pay raise, and Broadbent’s previously mentioned doc. Each performer seems to enjoy getting their hands dirty right alongside McAvoy. Very little of this world is attractive, yet there’s something compelling about Bruce’s degeneration.

“Yeah, alright then, take two of these and call me in the morning.”

Recommendation: Gleefully unpleasant, mischievous in all the right ways and darkly comedic, Filth is undoubtedly an acquired taste. For fans of James McAvoy, consider this a must-see. It’s always a treat seeing an actor undertake a role so atypical that it becomes transformative. Bruce Robinson is certainly the glue keeping this one together, as the story leaves quite a bit to be desired. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “Same rules apply.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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35 thoughts on “Filth

  1. Great review! So happy to see you rate this so highly bud! I often wondered what an American audience would make of it. I had a blast with this and thought it would mostly appeal to Scots or those familiar with Irvine Welsh. I read the book and to be honest, I found it a tough read. Director Baird does a good job of translating it to the screen though. And what about McAvoy? He was absolutely outstanding! He reminded me of DiCaprio’s outrageous performance in Wolf of Wall Street.

    • Hey man! Great to see ya. Yeah, Filth is a wild ride and a good bit of fun. Imperfect, mind you but I could overlook those things in favor of one of the greatest performances James McAvoy has given thus far. It’s actually one I find he may struggle to top going forward. He’s just so good. Good comparison between him and DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort. I hadn’t thought of that!

  2. I read this review over at my Scottish pal Mark’s a while back and I think you have the same reaction to this. I like McAvoy and no doubt he’s great here. Not sure this is for me though, based on what I’ve read so far. “Gleefully unpleasant” is an interesting way of putting it, you have a way w/ words Tom, great review, as always!

    • Hehe, Mark Walker? I was chatting with him on Facebook a few weeks back about this. I would only assume he’d love it too. 🙂

      I’ll say this much, ‘Filth’ certainly lives up to it’s title. (And if I’m totally honest, i took that line ‘gleefully unpleasant’ straight off of Rotten Tomatoes’ critical consensus section for the film. Hahah! I’m not as creative as you think. 😉 )

      • I miss Mark, wish he’d be back blogging again.

        Hey, your reviews have always been well-written, not just that one specific instance. Nothing wrong w/ borrowing from a review site, esp when it describes the film perfectly. I do think you are very creative, Tom! 😀

        • I know, me too. I think in that convo I had with him he had mentioned interest of making a return sometime in the near future so perhaps we will see some new stuff.

          I really appreciate the compliments Ruth. I suppose there isn’t anything wrong with borrowing. When I see certain things stated so perfectly I can’t help but use those bits to help put together something I’m trying to say. 🙂

  3. I’d never really believed in McAvoy until I saw his turn in Filth; a truly revelatory performance. It’s a really solid British film and does Welsh’s (who I once interviewed live on stage!) text justice.

    • Whoa, that’s great insight. What were you doing to be able to interview him on stage? I’m picturing a kind of ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ setting but with book authors. That’s probably well off the mark but really cool to hear about.

      I’ve always liked McAvoy but never enough to say he’s a favorite of mine. But here he does outstanding work. What a blast he is being nasty eh?

      • I was asked to interview him as part of a book festival I used to cover when I worked as a journalist (no longer). We chatted backstage for about an hour before and he came across really well; a genuine guy. The interview was on stage in front of a paying audience so it was a bit nerve wracking! Went well though and he read some passages from Filth.

    • Thanks Natasha, yeah there’s a whole lot to really detest about the way this guy goes about life. . . .and then you start learning some truths about him. It makes the movie pretty interesting. Glad I got around to seeing it.

  4. Great review. I’ve been meaning to see this since it came out but I’ve never really got down to actually seeing it. I’ll definitely remember seeing it this time.

    • Haha, thanks Alex. Yeah sometimes this section gets a bit unruly but I don’t mind it. It’s all in good fun. 😀

  5. Nice review, Tom! I might check this out at some point – I know it’s on Netflix. I just don’t like mean people! But… Trainspotting is pretty good, I guess. I like the use of the word vacillate! I totally vacillate. I’m a big vacillator! 🙂

    • Hey now, that’s kinda dirty. . . lol. Vacillation. Is that the act of spreading Vaseline all over one’s body?

      You know, I’ve never seen Trainspotting in its entirety? It’s terrible, I know. But I totally see where you’re coming from. Nasty people, especially ones who are prominently featured in movies and/or TV shows kind of turn me off. But for some reason it’s almost acceptable watching James McAvoy becoming such a jerk. Hahah. #inexplicable #vaseline

      • Hahaha! I don’t know why, but I suddenly pictured Eric spreading Vaseline all over his body… *shudder* Wonder if he’ll see this & yell at me. You really should watch all of Trainspotting! Now I’m going to stop vacillating over what to have for lunch & just have a cheese sandwich. 🙂 (I’m not sure if I used that word correctly – I’m still picturing the Vaseline thing…)

        • Eric is a rare commenter in these here parts but with any stroke of luck he has seen that comment and has commenced spreading the Vaseline.

          in all seriousness i think vacillate means to go back and forth between two things so that usage is correct. i love being a grammar Nazi. 😀

  6. Nice work Tom, I’ve not got round to watching this but it’s been on my Netflix queue for a while, so it’s good to read some praise for it. It sounds interesting, although I think Irvine Welsh generally works better on page than on screen (Trainspotting aside). I’m keen to see McAvoy’s performance more than anything.

    • It’s not something that jumps off the screen but McAvoy’s performance is pretty damn fun. Given how unlikable he is meant to be. Watching this for his presence is pretty much the recommended way to go!

  7. I have been meaning to watch this for a long time now. This review confirms that I should get up off my arse and watch it, your judgement is usually fairly similar to mine.

    Great post mate

    • Much appreciated my friend. You should hop on it like James McAvoy on a line of coke. 😉 I think you’ll have a great time with it. I did myself, just wish there was a bit more story. It would have been an easy 7 if it had more robust storytelling behind all this great character work

  8. I think we’re on the same boat with this one. Performance-wise, it’s tough not to admire the cast’s full-throttle approach. I laughed when I shouldn’t have because of them. But I did want a bit more from the story. At times it felt too obscene for obscenity’s sake. Top work Tom!

    • Grazi mille il mio amico! (don’t worry I don’t know Italian. I typed that shit into a translator because i wanted to say thanks in a foreign language. I don’t know why but i did.)

      Filth is wrong but it’s also so right. I loved James McAvoy in this, as nasty as he really was. But yes, the story kind of subsided and instead it just became a drug-trip with some weird episodes. I did, however, really appreciate the way the movie arrived at it’s conclusion. I thought that was pretty well handled.

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