Filth

Posted: October 18, 2013 in Film reviews
Tags: , , ,

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.

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