Starring James McAvoy, Jamie Bell & Imogen Poots
Jon S Baird’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s 1998 novel Filth lives up to its name and then some. We see the world through the bloodshot eyes of bipolar police detective Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) as he does anything and everything in his power to win a promotion over his work mates. What starts as a familiar battle of bravado eventually proves to be a genuinely unsettling voyage into the mind of a depraved psyche, and it makes for some of the most visceral and arresting British viewing of the year.
McAvoy is served perhaps the meatiest role of his career and he wastes no time in sinking his teeth into it and thrashing it around like a rabid pitbull. Bruce is the embodiment of every human vice – he’s a foul-mouthed, drug-abusing, violent, selfish, back-stabbing, misogynist scum bag and it’s crystal clear from the offset that he’s got a hell of a way to go before earning even an iota of redemption. But the more time we spend in his company, the more blatant it becomes that he’s more than just a bad guy, he’s damaged goods beyond repair, saddled with a stained soul and a corrupt conscience. Bruce has a fragile heart which cocaine and alcohol aren’t solely responsible for. He’s clearly been the victim of some type of trauma and this manifests itself in freakish hallucinations that eerily hint at a bigger picture.
Like its central anti-hero, Filth defiles almost anything it touches and the film isn’t shy when it comes to pushing and shoving boundaries. There’s a fine line between satirical and puerile and the film occasionally threatens to fall on the latter spectrum. The plot is also extremely far-fetched, but the hyper-realism of the imagery manages to just about justify such contrivances.
Bruce is surrounded by characters equally as contemptuous as him, such as baby-faced Ray (Bell), nymphomaniac Chrissie (Kate Dickie) and no-bullshit Amanda (Poots). The film tries to marginally redeem Bruce through the character of feeble accountant Bladesy, but Marsan’s performance is so cartoonish and exaggerated that this is nye on impossible to invest in.
The film’s hateful bile would be all but intolerable were it not for the sick sense of humour that runs right through it. Jim Broadbent makes a brilliantly bonkers appearance as Dr Rossi, who feels like the Aussie relative of Professor Weeto, and his scenes, especially during dream sequences, provide some of the film’s biggest belly laughs. It hasn’t felt this wrong to laugh at a film since In Bruges and this transforms what could have been nihilistic sludge into a wickedly guilty pleasure.
Filth grabs you by the scruff of the neck and takes you on a rollicking, booze-fuelled ride down the rabbit hole. In this nightmarish dimension hope is all but extinct, morality is a dirty word and, by the time you’ve come out the other side, you’ll be in need of a good shower.