Saturday, 15 November 2014

Filth Review

Think you know James McAvoy? Think again. His performance in Jon S. Baird's adaptation of Irving Welsh's Filth is astounding and there is nothing sweet or fluffy about it or any other aspect of the film. Filth is very funny, very wrong, very sordid and very likely to incite hatred from Daily Mail readers across the land (Hooray!). Sex, drugs, more sex, more drugs, violence, corruption, depravity, even more sex and drugs… Filth is absolutely, well, filthy, and is a memorable experience to say the least. And it has sex and drugs in it. 


It is not always easy viewing. Far from it. Sometime after the midway point the laughs die down, the stomach churns a little more uneasily, the grimaces are more evident and the intakes of breath are more audible. We are less willing to forgive but, like the car crash up ahead that has caused all the drivers in front to rubber-neck, well, just one long look as we pass can't hurt, can it? 

Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) is a bigot. He's bi-polar, a junkie, sex-obsessed, self-obsessed, manipulative and frequently thoroughly unpleasant. He's also a cop. With a promotion in the balance, Bruce is up against several colleagues and sets about turning one against the other, unsettling them with salacious gossip and blatant lies to ensure he beats them to the post. Throw in his manipulation of fellow freemason Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), his sultry wife, Carole (Shauna MacDonald) and his hallucinatory sessions with Doctor Rossi (Jim Broadbent) and you have one monumentally screwed up anti-hero. And what's not to love about that? 

The Coen brothers may have the monopoly on fantastic character names, but nobody writes actual characters like Welsh and the cast that Baird has poured into Filth is staggeringly good in their interpretation of this mess of freaks and misfits. There isn't a poor performance in the entire film from the uncertain laddishness of Ray (Jamie Bell) to the fantastic absurdity of Doctor Rossi. While none are bona fide Hollywood stars, the cast that glitters in a maniacal, dirty way is a treat beyond expectation: Imogen Poots, Shirley Henderson, Gary Lewis (yes, Billy Elliott and his dad are reunited at last!), John Sessions, Joanne Froggatt… It's a fantastic, eclectic mix of British stars that proves Britain has got talent. Certainly more than Simon Cowell ever has. 

Filth is a perfectly paced film; it roars ahead stirring emotions and judgement, exciting and thrilling as it trashes everything in its wake but it is never so fast that we feel left behind or that we've missed out on a juicy morsel of degeneracy. Sufficient time is allowed for us to filter through, as bes

t we can, the quagmire that is Bruce's life, but Baird never pauses or permits us time to glance at our watch or neighbour.

The soundtrack, too, is bang on the money stamping though a musical landscape that is at times acceptably cheesy and more often a reminder of what to check is on the iPod. Where else can you effortlessly segue from David Soul into Shaking' Stevens? While the latter is consigned to audio wallpaper, the bizarrely fantastic cameo from David Soul is a delight. Had Dennis Potter snorted cocaine Pennies From Heaven might have resembled this.

In the face of common opinion that it simply wouldn't work, and after years of development, Filth turns out to be a near masterpiece, whose recognition as such is only made less likely by the inevitable comparison with Trainspotting. It is a ballsy adaptation of a hugely admired novel, as unpredictable as its central character and charged with the vitriolic energy of the author's writing. A well balanced juggling act of tones; in lesser hands this would have been a mess. 


It is not always a pleasant watch, but like the central character, it finds its way to a strange, engaging and even rather emotional resolution. Whilst there is likely to be a good forty percent of casual viewers who are left completely cold, the remaining will see a successful, proudly Scottish film that is by turns dark, shocking, comical and moving, which also goes out on an incredibly catchy and surprisingly fitting seventies hit.

Filth is Taggart if it had snorted ecstasy, cocaine and speed off the toilet seat of a dirty, Scottish strip club. And if you're not down with that, what the fuck are you still doing here?