Cert: 18 Runtime: 97 mins Director: Jon S. Baird Cast: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan and Jim Broadbent
Don’t start something you cannae fucking finish
James McAvoy is back after his great success with Trance, now we get to see the filthier side of him. Scheming Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a bigoted and corrupt policeman, is in line for a promotion and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Enlisted to solve a brutal murder and threatened by the aspirations of his colleagues, including Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell), Bruce sets about ensuring their ruin, right under the nose of unwitting Chief Inspector Toal. As he turns his colleagues against one another by stealing their wives and exposing their secrets, Bruce starts to lose himself in a web of deceit that he can no longer control. His past is slowly catching up with him, and a missing wife, a crippling drug habit and suspicious colleagues start to take their toll on his sanity. The question is: can he keep his grip on reality long enough to disentangle himself from the filth? This is another film adaptation of an Irvine Welsh novel that was referred to as “unfilmable”, although when reading the book when it first came out I for one was struck by the tightness of the narrative and the cinema-friendly focus on a single protagonist.The film is fairly faithful to the source, and the changes are down to the different artform. Irvine Welsh has said that McAvoy’s performance is better than De Niro’s in Taxi Driver. I don’t think this is a suitable comparison. Scorsese’s seminal feature was about a post-traumatic depression, whereas Jon S. Baird’s film is more manic.
For me, the film Filth most resembles is A Clockwork Orange. Like Kubrick’s masterpiece, the entire aesthetic is informed by the subjectivity of the central character. And there are subtler nods: the use of classical music, the bleached windows, Jim Broadbent’s reinvention of the Deltoid character (a probation officer then, a psychiatrist now), and the visual reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.Before the film’s release, I wasn’t convinced by the casting of McAvoy, but after watching it I can safely say he’s transformative – to capture such bipolar savagery and the fear in a single facial expression is the sign of a special performance. The supporting cast provides a colourful blend of caricatures. Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan and Imogen Poots all make an impact in the few moments when McAvoy isn’t dominating the screen.For me, the dud notes concern the tone of the film. Sometimes Baird’s shifts between the schizoid black comedy of Robertson’s outbursts and his introspective guilt about his past are so sudden and sentimental that their capacity to convince is lost in the (lack of) transition.To say that it’s the best Welsh adaptation since Trainspotting may not be saying much – so I’ll say instead that it’s a very good film in its own right.