I enjoyed Filth a lot more than I expected. It’s true that my expectations were low, but compared to Trainspotting(about which I am a heretic), also written by Irvine Welsh, I thought it was quite fun. Nasty, sick, violent and offensive fun, of course.
Although I have to say that I think that at heart, it’s a sentimental story. We meet Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) living his ordinary life – drinking and eating too much, taking drugs, conspiring against his colleagues, and feeling sorry for himself about his wife. This is a man for whom behaving badly is second nature. And yet, unlike Alex inClockwork Orange, for example, there are – if not extenuating circumstances – at least reasons why he treats everyone so badly. In no particular order, there is the absent family, a dead brother, drug addiction and (according to the plot description of the novel), bipolar disorder.
Whether this excuses his screwing a colleague’s wife (and abusing her afterwards), making obscene phone calls to another friend’s wife, failing to investigate a murder properly, and attempting to convince each of his colleagues in turn that all the others are saying bad things about them, visiting brothels, and regularly appearing for work in a state of drug-addled inebriation, is a matter for your moral conscience. The thing is, Bruce is fun. He behaves badly along the lines that we might also behave badly if we lacked that inner restraint that inhibits us. And, the film suggests, (which is where the sentimentality creeps in), his badness stems from things that have happened, not just because he’s a wanker.
It’s been a while since I really enjoyed McAvoy in a film. His two recent hard man appearances – Trance and Welcome To The Punch – simply exposed how lacking in hardness he is. Bruce is not hard, he’s mean, and damaged and fucked up. Which makes McAvoy a much more appropriate choice. And the supporting cast is simply terrific, with John Sessions as his boss, Jamie Bell as a colleague and friend, Imogen Poots, Shirley Henderson and Eddie Marsan as the hapless bloke who Bruce befriends and bullies.
Although Jim Broadbent is in the film, the sections in which he appears are the weakest. Initially we see him as a useless shrink with a brummie accent, who Bruce goes to see as a box-ticking exercise. But then he turns up in a series of fantasy/flashback/psychotic sequences, with an extra large head and an Australian accent. These parts of the film don’t work. There’s no real explanation of how they mesh with the rest of the film, and are neither funny, scary or illuminating.
Just to be clear – in case there is any confusion – this is not a film for the easily, or the not-very-easily offended. Bruce is not a man you’d want to know; to let your daughter, sister or second cousin marry; or to even exist in the same room as. He’s a sick fuck. But the film as a whole is more fun than not, and for that reason, gets more of a thumbs up than a thumbs down.
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