Archive for October, 2013


Posted: October 18, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jon S. Baird. Starring James McAvoy, Eddie Marsden, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell.

And so yet another un-filmable novel gets, er, filmed, as Irvine Welsh’s novel about a degenerate Edinburgh copper gets the celluloid treatment. You know they really should stop saying books are un-filmable, because clearly it’s not true. Every book can be filmed…whether it’s filmed very well is, of course, up for debate… I’ve never read the book, so I’m taking the film on its own merits.

McAvoy is Bruce Robertson, a Detective Sergeant angling for promotion to Detective Inspector (DI). When a Japanese student is murdered Bruce is assigned as acting DI. Whilst he looks into the murder, he also indulges in a series of ‘games’, where he attempts to discredit the other officers in the running for DI and make them turn on each other. He also plays similar games with his friend Clifford (Marsden) including making dirty phone calls to Clifford’s wife, Bunty, and then amusingly getting himself assigned to investigate the prank caller.

Even as he manipulates those around him, however, Bruce increasingly becomes the victim of his own myriad demons, and his carefully ordered life starts to fall apart.

It’s a difficult film to pigeonhole. Though black comedy might sum it up best, really it’s the story of one man’s mental disintegration. Given that Bruce is central to the story— McAvoy is in the vast majority of scenes— the film could have fallen at the first hurdle, because Bruce is not a nice man. He’s the kind of cop who makes Jack Regan and Gene Hunt look like politically correct teetotallers, and he has so many negative qualities that it’s hard to know where to start. He’s an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex obsessed, sexist, misanthropic, manipulative bully. A man not averse to sleeping with his friends’ wives, beating up witnesses, and even coercing sexual favours from underage girls.

And yet, despite all that, whilst we might not like him, whilst we probably can’t find it in our hearts to root for him, McAvoy’s performance is so good that, if nothing else, we can never quite bring ourselves to hate him. There are enough indications of the events that shaped this man that we can pity him, enough signs that there’s a better man struggling to get out that we can actually believe he might have a shot at redemption.

McAvoy is excellent, taking the character from a controlling king of the world, right the way down to a broken, pathetic man at odds with everyone around him, even hitting out at those trying to help him, and it isn’t all just grandstanding either, it’s the occasional hesitation, the vague glimmer of something in his eyes that says even he’s disgusted with himself. Make no mistake, it’s a bravura performance and in other hands the role, and thereby the film, would have failed miserably.

This isn’t a film for everyone, it’s bleak, violent, and explicit when it comes to its depiction of sex and drug use, though it perhaps isn’t quite as degenerate and hopeless as it’s been painted. Funny and engaging though it is, it’s also, at times, a hard watch, increasingly so as Bruce’s slender grasp on reality becomes increasingly frayed, and once they start, many of his hallucinations are genuinely disturbing.

McAvoy is backed up by a solid cast, from stalwart performers like Eddie Marsden and Shirley Henderson, who both graduated from the ‘never give a bad performance’ school of acting, to younger talent in the shape of Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots. Poots in particular gives a good account of herself, despite seeming a shade too young for the role.

There are two other characters at work in the film, the first is the soundtrack, a wonderful mix tape of classics, many of which play over quite inappropriate scenes. It’s also probably the best Christmas soundtrack since Die Hard.

The other major character is Edinburgh itself, a beautiful city that hasn’t featured nearly enough in film. Here its mix of brooding grandeur and cheesy tourist chic provide a perfect backdrop to the absurdity of Bruce’s life, with its dark volcanic architecture mirroring the darkness in Bruce’s soul.

And on the subject of souls it’s nice to see David Soul show up in what has to be one of the oddest cameos in a long time!

It’s not a feel good film, but it is funny and compelling, and it features one hell of a central performance so I hope this filth cleans up at the box-office.

The third in my occasional series about things other writers do that get my back up!

Today: Speedy and lacklustre conclusions.

You know what it’s like, you’ve read through 400 pages of story, seen characters grow and evolve, seen them overcome (or not) obstacles in their way, but you’ve reached the finale, the final confrontation with the bad guy. Perhaps they’re going to go toe to toe at last with the supernatural forces that have plagued them throughout the book, or maybe the hero is about to declare his love for the heroine. Whatever it is, you’ve waited for this moment, waited to see how things all come together in the end, how the author will resolve all the issues…

And then within the space of a page he or she has their heroine hit the villain over the head with a plant pot, or the hero throws a bible and the seemingly indestructible vampire-Chihuahua barks its last and crumbles to dust.

And you’re left thinking; is that it? That was a bit easy, wasn’t it? I mean, why didn’t they try throwing a bible at the blood sucking miniature dog before?

As someone who’s close to finishing his fourth novel I can understand that there are two forces at work here. The first comes down to planning. Sometimes, however well mapped out your book is, you might not decide how it’s all going to end until… well until the end, but I’m still not convinced that you can’t take a little time to come up with something better than “And then he shot her. The end.”

The second factor relates to writing a novel being somewhat akin to running a marathon, only slightly less sweaty and if you need the loo you don’t have to pee in the street. Of course I’m sure there are some very sweaty authors out there who love nothing more than relieving themselves in the gutter, but I digress…writing a novel is usually a long process. Notwithstanding the Stephen Kings of this world who can reputedly knock out a book in three days (Running Man) for the most part writing a novel is a process that will take the average writer many months at least (My first novel took my 6 months, my second about a year, the third almost two years and I’m currently 14 months into the fourth) and like a marathon, for the most part it’s a matter of keeping your head down and keeping going, not thinking of the 25 miles or six months ahead, taking each step, each paragraph, at a time.

But in every marathon must come that moment when you enter the final straight, and can see the finishing line up ahead, and you’re so tired, so utterly weary, that all you want to do is reach that bloody finish line as fast as you can, break the tape and finally stop running, have someone wrap a silver blanket round you and sit down with a nice cup of tea!

And so you pick up the pace, despite everything that’s gone before, despite all your dedication and focus, you sprint the last hundred yards, and I think it’s the same for writers. However much you’ve enjoyed writing up to this point, however invested you are in your characters, by the time you can see the end is in sight you just want to get it over with, and, truth be told, you probably hate your novel a bit by this point.

Like I say I can understand it, and frankly with my current novel being so close to the end I can taste it (hmm, strawberries) it does make me want to just wrap things up!

I think writers do have an obligation to the readers though, to give them a satisfying conclusion. Of course it isn’t always possible, and sometimes you do have to go where the story leads, and of by the end of a book the reader might well be feeling like the author, however much they’ve enjoyed it they probably want it to end too, and a seventeen chapter finale where the hero defuses a nuclear bomb and wrestles a gorilla before finally having a swordfight with the villain on top of the London Eye might be just as annoying as a more truncated ending.

But still, if you can spend a chapter early on describing a car chase, is it too much to ask for more than a paragraph in conclusion?

Anyway, I must go now. Need to finish my novel…

…er…does anyone know how to defuse a nuclear bomb?