7 October 2013

FILTH- Review

It's tough to think of another recent movie that is as appropriately titled as Filth. Based on the Irvine Welsh novel, and released in the same week as feel-good Scottish musical Sunshine On Leith, this is an aggressively feel-bad movie, which goes to surprising lengths to keep James McAvoy's utterly foul anti-hero from coming out the other side as a better person.

McAvoy is detective sergeant Bruce Robertson, a policeman who wages psychological warfare upon his colleagues as he competes for a promotion to the post of DI at his Lothian constabulary. He has a shopping list of vices and prejudices, from racism to misogyny, all fueled by some pretty fearsome substance addiction. Somehow, he manages to be a big swinging dick in the force, but as the festive season rolls around, and his mental state begins to unravel, Bruce sinks lower and lower into depravity.

It's immediately quite difficult to talk about Filth in terms that aren't related to James McAvoy, because so much of the film hinges on his deranged, superb performance. He's transformed himself into something seriously fucking fearsome as Bruce, outwardly as happy in his own squalor as a pig in shit, but internally tortured and misanthropic. As good as he is usually, I don't have much hesitation in saying that this is the performance of his career so far, and some of the best acting work I've seen on screen all year.

It's not that the film outside of his performance isn't good- in fact, it's pretty excellent, in its own nasty little way. Some have inevitably drawn lines between this and the essential Welsh adaptation, Danny Boyle's Trainspotting, but writer-director Jon S. Baird does some stellar work outside of the more obvious favourable comparisons. He and cinematographer Matthew Jensen have chosen to shoot most of the film with a Vaseline-lensed soft focus, serving to put hangover goggles on the audience, and marking the nightmare sequences and non sequiturs apart as more vibrant and sharp.

There's also a vibe of A Clockwork Orange about the thing- there's that same kind of anarchic tone, but with more of a propensity to make you either laugh or gasp out loud. The film is unapologetic in its aim to shock and disgust, but it never gets away from Baird and co. Bruce has no redeeming qualities, obvious or otherwise, so the most obvious transition comes in explaining why he is the way he is, rather than bringing him to any kind of catharsis.

Up to a point, it's the literal definition of a guilty pleasure- you can almost feel guilty for enjoying some of the stuff that Bruce is getting away with, leaving the supporting characters almost completely unawares. Eddie Marsan, so brilliant as the woobie in The World's End, excels once again in a similar role as Bladesey, a naive freemason, who really doesn't need enemies with friends like Bruce. The Lothian constabulary is packed with terrific performers too, with a pompous John Sessions and a cocky Jamie Bell amongst them.

Incidentally, the other Danny Boyle film that this one called to mind was this year's Trance, a film which retrospectively looks a little peaky by comparison to this full-blooded bastard of a film. McAvoy starred in that one too, but for all of its surreal, puzzle-box style, it didn't have anything as brilliant or strange as the fourth-wall-breaking asides from Bruce's wife Carole, whose significance only becomes clear in the jaw-dropping third act, or the sporadic nightmare scenes with Jim Broadbent's big-brained psychiatrist, or the bloody David Soul cameo, for crying out loud.

For as big a game as Bruce talks for most of the film, Filth is about fear, and it's a film that makes great sport out of properly shaking up an unsuspecting audience. It's definitely very funny in places, but for those who've seen the overtly comedic trailers, a rude awakening could be in store. James McAvoy is the decidedly un-calm centre around which everything hangs together- he's never likeable, and seldom even pitiable, but his performance is utterly magnetic, and it's worth stomaching the rest of it all by itself.

Filth is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Filth, why not share your comments below? If you need a hug after seeing this one, I recommend seeing Sunshine On Leith afterwards, for a great downer-upper Scottish double bill.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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