Films that incorporate dark humour are very difficult to get right, there are films that do it well, such as In Bruges and ones that do not, Dirty Grandpa. Filth is a very strange case of being a rare middle ground.
Filth follows the story of Bruce Robertson, he is a Scottish policeman who is in line for a promotion, the only thing holding him back is his drug addiction, alcohol addiction, sex addiction, homophobia, racism and blatant sexism. All the qualities for us as an audience to get behind then.
From that description of our protagonist, you get a pretty clear idea of the kind of dark roads that this character is going to venture down.
Bruce is a truly vile character, he is utterly repugnant and disgusting, normally its very difficult to like a film that hates its characters, or a film that loves its hateful characters (The Wolf Of Wall Street) and in the case of this film it could be a very similar scenario, however this film stars James McAvoy. The film essentially follows the exploits of Bruce and therefore he is onscreen for pretty much every frame of it, so for this film to work, McAvoy has to give it everything, and he does. I spoke in my The Road review about actors taking risks and how there weren’t a lot of actors, atleast big name ones, willing to take them, here McAvoy does. His dedication to the role is phenomenal and inspired, his piercing blue eyes usually lend a way into his characters, here he does use that, but in the majority of his scenes it makes him look almost demonic. McAvoy spoke a lot in interviews about his preparation for the role and how he would drink copious amounts of alcohol before bed so that he would look awful for the morning shoots and it really shows here. Usually in Hollywood, even if an actor has gained weight, they still try and make them look “attractive”, here McAvoy really does look terrible.
So physically our “hero” looks the part so does he get some time to act? Fortunately he does and in some pretty rancid ways too. In one particular scene Bruce and his friend Lennox (played by Jamie Bell) break into a flat and find a young man about to have sex with an underage girl, Bruce knows the young girls father is an infamous Scottish lawyer and uses this as leverage for her to perform oral sex on him, to which he tells her “Who taught you that technique a fucking cheese grater?”. Its incredibly dark, satirical and nasty but McAvoy sells every second of it and his dedication shines, not every actor could make that scene into a darkly humorous moment. I use this scene as an example because I understand it can be offensive to a lot of people and not everyone will “get” it. The actor in question has stated that people will “probably walk out of the film” and I have no doubt he was correct.
Unfortunately because of the nature of the film and its limited release McAvoy went unnoticed around awards season. Its a real shame because he is brilliant in it, his ability to be an awful human being but then, on occasion, show moments of sympathy and pathos demonstrate his capabilities to yo-yo as an actor and encapsulate Bruce’s almost Bi-polar state of mind.
Directing and writing duties here are undertaken by Jon S. Baird, the film is solidly handled by him, the direction is not particularly impressive but nor is it shoddily done. Baird knows how to direct his actors and he is working with some veterans so the film is in capable hands, he doesn’t shy away from the more gratuitous sex scenes and keeps the film moving at a brisk and enjoyable pace.
The writing here is perfectly adequate, the film is really funny in places and dark, it just doesn’t quite get the right amount of laughs or depth to become a classic in the same way that In Bruges does. I don’t mean to discredit the film, especially when you have McAvoy mock his friend Bladesey (Eddie Marsan on great form) for using a travel guide and telling him to “go to the index and look up fanny”. If the film had a few more laugh out loud moments like this I think it could of reached loftier heights.
Its nice to see such a prestigious and dedicated supporting cast in a low budget film to, I don’t always like Jamie Bell, but here he gives a lot to a small role playing a coke snorting newbie to the police force. Imogen Poots shows up playing Bruce’s direct competition for the promotion he is going for and similar to the other cast plays her part well, Poots is impressing me as a young up and coming supporting actress who was also great in Green Room! Jim Broadbent plays Bruce’s psychiatrist Dr. Rossi and uses an exaggerated Australian accent that compliments his bizarre character. Finally we have Eddie Marsan who as mentioned previously plays Bladesey, Bruces best friend. He is having relationship issues with his wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson, who is also great). Marsan is a real underrated British talent and is hilarious, his dance scene in Hamburg being a stand out.
It should be noted that the film is adapted from an Irvine Welsh novel of the same name (which was actually narrated by a tape worm growing inside Bruce), the best adaptation of his work can be found in Danny Boyles Trainspotting, which is a masterpiece. Filth unfortunately does not quite extend to such echelons. I think Filth is missing the transcendent quality that Trainspotting had, while Trainspotting was an incredibly dark and grimy film, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Filth pushes you so far down the tunnel that its only option is to keep digging. This is frustrating because the film does have some nice emotional moments in it, they just cant quite shine because of the source material.
Filth is a good film, I really like all the performances especially McAvoy who owns the screen and the pacing is nicely done, I was never bored during it and it constantly holds your attention, even if you want to turn away. Sadly it needed a bit more depth to it and stronger direction, maybe a longer running time could of aided this (its only 1 hour 30 minutes) but I think its because Irvine Welsh novels are difficult to adapt to the screen and maybe his writing isn’t always the most cinematic.
You can catch the film on Netflix but you can also buy it on Blu-ray. I own the steelbook from Zavvi and its one of my best, it is very colourful, with the coke lines on it protruding from the front cover, you can grab it at a bargain price here, or go for the standard edition (which is more expensive):