Release: Friday, April 25, 2014 (limited)
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.
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.
Running Time: 97 mins.
Quoted: “Same rules apply.”
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