It’s been nearly two decades since Filth writer Irvine Welsh saw a great adaptation of his work in the form of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. Given his bleak subject matter it’s perhaps not surprising that filmmakers are so fascinated by the Scottish writer but, as numerous films since Trainspotting have demonstrated, he’s not always the easiest man to adapt to the screen. Filth aims to change that, but does it hit a drug fuelled high or crash like a terrible comedown?
Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) has a few issues on his plate. He’s got a nasty drug habit, suffers from hallucinations, has a murder to solve, a wife to please, a girlfriend to defile and all while he’s vying for a promotion. Standing in his way of said promotion are a number of his colleagues, including naive Ray (Jamie Bell) and ambitious Amanda (Imogen Poots). And with a holiday with only real friend Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), whose wife Bunty (Shirely Henderson) Bruce is also playing prank phone calls on, just around the corner, Bruce’s life is rapidly spiraling out of control just in time for the festive season.
As you would expect from a Welsh adaptation, Filth is brilliantly dark, cutting and often intentionally disturbing. It’s like wading into an oil spill, the viscous black liquid coating your every body until you’re stuck, writhing like an endangered bird in its mucussy trap. But, like Trainspotting, Filth is rife with a brilliantly cutting sense of humour, a sardonic look at the world Bruce inhabits. Sure he’s a sociopath with enough issues to probably have him committed but try not loving him, it’s near impossible.
Writer director Jon S. Baird brings a wonderful sense of vibrant urgency to Bruce’s world. The colour scheme might be typically drab, Scottish grey but everything else pops like a well-timed ecstasy pill. Baird drags us, either kicking and screaming or hedonistically delighted (depending on your preference), into Bruce’s world framing his characters in tight, often distorted close-ups to allow you to get a true sense of the twisted logic of Bruce’s existence.
For some, Filth may prove too much. Too dark, too gritty, too lacking in a moral compass to guide us through this murky world. But, like American Psycho, Bruce is an antihero you’ll find yourself, if not loving, at least genuinely feeling for. That is solely down to the powerhouse performance from James McAvoy. Equipped with ginger beard and hair grease to oil a machine his Bruce possesses enough gravity pulling brilliance to make the sun look dim by comparison. While the rage, anger, hostility and general unpleasant nature of Bruce shines in McAvoy’s performance, it’s his ability to make you feel for this broken individual in ways you would not think possible. Indeed so far into the depths of depravity does Bruce fall you pray that he hits rock bottom, at least that way he’ll have no where else to go but up. It’s the kind of performance that should, but most likely won’t due to the nature of the film, be rewarded with little statues for the McAvoy household. By the time the credits role it’ll take the most hardened of cynic not to want to leap into the screen and give Bruce a big ‘there-there’ hug. Suffice to say, when it comes to McAvoy, there’s no more Mr. Nice Guy.
Like a brilliantly timed un-PC joke that has a biting and guilty climax to it, Filth is, like its protagonist, offensively charming.