Back in 1996, British cult writer Irvine Welsh secured his place in the public consciousness when his novel 'Trainspotting' became a beloved cult film and launched the career of a whole new generation of British artists. Since then, none of his work has received as high-profile a transition to film, so there has been a lot of interest and anticipation for 'Filth', a major adaptation of his novel featuring an imposing cast and adapted by writer and director Jon S. Baird.
Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a man with the world at his feet, a rock star inspector in the Edinburgh police, with a beautiful wife and daughter and a lifestyle that accommodates for all his many vices - which include women, booze and any drug he can get his hands on. There's a promotion coming up, and Bruce makes it his duty to bring down his competition with backstabbing, scheming and manipulation. As the pressure starts to build, though, Bruce begins to buckle, exposing the fractures in the facade he works so hard to maintain. The truth is, Bruce doesn't have the world at his feet, but the world falling on his head.
Off the bat, I'm going to admit (ashamedly) that I've never seen 'Trainspotting', so I can't offer any comparison between the two films. That said, 'Filth' is such so distinctive that I doubt there would be much to compare. Everything, from the editing to the writing to the performances, is absolutely nuts from the moment the film begins. It's a cinematic shot of adrenaline, filled with the most repulsive of characters, and production designed to within an inch of its life. Imagine a Looney Tunes cartoon jacked up on cocaine, and you might come close. Baird's work here is bold and grandiose, utilising every cinematic tool he can get his hands on. The film, to an extent, is the world as constructed through Bruce's crippling psyche, offering a very fractured idea of reality. The editing is frenetic, the cinematography is dizzying, and the film moves at an absolutely cracking pace, changing style and rhythm seamlessly. This film is acidic, reprehensible and an absolute blast, introducing us to a team of filmmakers completely in command of the camera and everything in front of it. The aesthetic effect of 'Filth' is hard to describe, not only because of its idiosyncrasies but how integral that style is to the twists and turns of the plot, but the overall results are incredibly exciting.
It's a cinematic shot of adrenaline, filled with the most repulsive of characters, and production designed to within an inch of its life.
Leading the charge is James McAvoy, with another performance that proves he is one of the most exciting actors working today. In fact, as Bruce, he delivers one of his best performances to date. It's a considerable achievement to have a character so thoroughly repulsive but to craft him in such a way that we can't help but fall for him. Bruce is tortured up to his eyeballs, and McAvoy explores and revels in this, with startling bravery and attention to details. He's also backed up by an immense supporting cast, all of whom are absolutely terrific. Jamie Bell is great as Ray, a young detective that shows all the hallmarks of following in Bruce’s decedent footsteps, as is Eddie Marsan as Bruce’s most devoted friend, gentle and spineless Bladesey. There’s also Imogen Potts, Shirley Henderson, and Jim Broadbent in a bizarre cameo as Bruce’s Australian doctor, Dr. Rossi. Everyone is gives as barmy a performance as the last, adding to the sense that you’re watching a jacked-up cartoon come to life.
All that energy does cause ‘Filth’ to become exhausting as it enters its final act, topped off by an abrupt and unapologetic ending. Bruce is put through the absolute wringer atoning for his sins, and the film leads us down a spiral of madness that gets darker and darker. Thankfully, that cheeky irreverence is never far behind, and as the film gets more bizarre and confronting, the humour gets blacker and blacker. There are moments in ‘Filth’ that are quite confronting, especially watching a man literally fall apart at the seams, but thanks to brave filmmaking and performances, it never becomes too much to take. Only time will tell whether ‘Filth’ attains the kind of cult appreciation that ‘Trainspotting’ has enjoyed, but it certainly deserves to be seen by anyone with the stomach for something a bit grittier, caked in booze and vomit and sprinkled in a shower of cocaine. You’ll probably not find many films like it.