2013 – UK – 97 min – Certificate: 18
‘What the fuck was that just jumped off my back?’ Irvine Welsh asked in a tweet earlier in the year after a seeing a final cut of Filth. Answer: ‘Ah, it’s you Trainspotting monkey!’
Welsh is obviously chuffed to bits about the adaptation of his third novel and has been talking up the film at just about every opportunity ever since; he’s even been actively encouraging comparisons with Danny Boyle’s take on Trainspotting; in fact, he’s watched both films back to back and is unable to favour one over the other. And he is very proud of Trainspotting.
Hopes for Filth are almost ridiculously high and have been ever since a genuine buzz emerged as filming started in 2011 and now just prior to its release, its star James McAvoy and director Jon S. Baird seem every bit as upbeat as Welsh about the movie.
Sometimes, though, I prefer seeing a film without these levels of expectation. Indeed, a good example of why this is Danny Boyle’s Trance which actually also starred McAvoy, a very decent effort but which struck me as slightly disappointing after the blaze of hype that preceded it.
Several other nagging doubts remained before I set out to Cineworld last night to see the first Glasgow preview screening. Baird’s only film before this had escaped my notice up till now and hadn’t been lauded by those who did see it, and while I certainly enjoyed the novel Filth, I don’t rate it as highly as some of Welsh’s other work.
The ensemble cast is unquestionably top flight, including (in addition to McAvoy) Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, Joanne Froggatt, Iain De Caestecker, Martin Compston and Kate Dickie but McAvoy in the central role of Bruce Robertson just didn’t strike me as the right choice, just like when John Hannah was chosen to portray another fictional Edinburgh cop in the original series of Rebus.
Maybe it’s because I saw Filth performed as a one man play over a decade ago in a cramped tiny studio space in the Citizens Theatre with a tour de force performance from Tam Dean Burn that made me suspect McAvoy was too fresh faced and young, too small and too good looking for the role of Robertson. Baird and Welsh both apparently had big reservations too over his suitability but these vanished the moment the Glasgow born actor began his audition. He was offered the part that same day.
McAvoy has described taking on the part as the riskiest thing he’s ever done.
The risk though has paid off.
He’s a revelation. And I would never make a casting editor.
Cops onscreen are often mavericks, too fond of bevvy, willing to break the odd rule and usually at odds with their superiors but Bruce is something else, something way beyond that, Bruce is Edinburgh’s outrageously Bad Leiutenent – Bad Detective Sergeant actually – utterly corrupt, sociopathic, and racist, sexist and homophobic too, in fact, the misanthropic Bruce doesn’t really like anybody, and even his fellow Mason and supposed best buddy Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), who accompanies him on a three day walk on the wild side in Hamburg, isn’t immune from his bullying and grotesque scheming.
How does he treat his mate? Well, for starters, Bruce makes sinister, sexual prank calls anonymously to Bladesey’s wife Bunty (Shirley Hendson), putting on a Frank Sidebottom. Before taking things further.
I didn’t mention that Bruce exhibits all the tell-tale signs being a sex addict, did I? A sex addict who is also a heavy drinker and even heavier drug user with a penchant for wreaking havoc on everyone around him.
Dixon of Dock Green he is most definitely not. Although importantly, he is, very occasionally, also capable of doing the right thing.
Filth draws the viewer in quickly. The script is very pacey, relentless even at times and as you may have already worked out, there’s depravity a-plenty on display. Filth is completely in yer face, or maybe since it’s set in Scotland that should be ‘in yer coupon’ and like Trainspotting it’s absolutely hilarious at times.
Our anti-hero is hoping for a promotion, which he is convinced would help him win back his departed glamorous wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald) and daughter, Stacey.
He’s enlisted to solve the brutal murder of a Japanese student in an Edinburgh underpass, the solving of which would make him heavy favourite to make the step up to Detective Inspector but rather than concentrating his efforts into the investigation, Robbo spends the bulk of his time ruining the promotion chances of his rivals such as his younger sidekick Ray (Jamie Bell), Gus (Gary Lewis, Bell’s dad in Billy Elliott), Peter (Emun Elliott), Dougie (Brian McCardie) and perhaps his main threat, the very capable and by the book cop, Amanda (Imogen Poots).
Initially his Machiavellian plots go to plan but Bruce’s spiralling wildly out of control addictions aren’t his only problems and very soon surreal hallucinations make an appearance and a disintegrating Bruce, increasingly haunted by personal demons, becomes more erratic by the hour.
Robertson is obviously fast becoming a one man disaster area but is he beyond repair?
I’ll not reveal the answer to that question and I definitely won’t give away the ending – which is the way I believe the film inevitably had to go out on but I will just fully recommend you see Filth and see it on the big screen in a cinema full with others laughing and squirming as the increasingly splenetic and desperate cop finds himself drawn further and further into his outrageous webs of deceit.
Is Filth as good as Trainspotting? As much as I liked it I don’t think it is but how many British films are? I found some of the hallucination scenes with Doctor Rossi overcooked and I’m still mystified by the animation in the end credits but my only real complaint about Filth is that since watching it I’ve had David Soul’s Silver Lady stuck in my head, involuntarily repeating itself again and again. And Lust for Life that song most definitely ain’t.
So far into 2013 this is the most gripping British film I’ve watched by a distance and McAvoy’s performance is also easily the best, in fact, it just edges his turns in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement as his career best to date and an obvious contender for awards. One Scottish bookmaker has offered 33/1 on Filth winning the Oscar next year for Best Film which I’m not particularly tempted by but I really wouldn’t be remotely surprised if McAvoy picked up a Bafta. He would undoubtedly deserve it.
Opens Scotland Sept 27/Rest of UK & ROI Oct 4.