Even though I don’t really know any of Irvine Welsh’s work beyond Trainspotting, both the book and the Danny Boyle movie, I had been oddly looking forward to Filth, so I headed into the cinema with high hopes, but, as always, doing my best to temper them just in case.
Well I’m pleased to say that, while not as wildly successful as Trainspotting, Filth is still a very good film and tells its story in a way that is certainly inventive.
The story essentially deals with the personal disintegration of Detective Sergeant Bruce ‘Robbo’ Robertson (James McAvoy) as he and his team investigate a murder and he seeks promotion to Detective Inspector but, aside from a few scenes, this is so pushed to the side that it becomes no more than equal to the several other subplots going on and it is Robbo’s story that is the film’s driving force.
It is McAvoy’s performance that anchors the movie and is its most impressive feature. Across the film he switches from brutal and horrible to sympathetic in the most terrible of ways as he portrays Robbo as a truly despicable anti-hero that, at times, had me thinking of Breaking Bad’s Walter White because, though he was committing some truly heinous acts, he still seemed to have a side to empathise with, which made me feel a bit bad for siding with him at all.
Certainly McAvoy is the star of this film as he appears in almost every scene and deals with the movies twists and turns and its astonishingly graphic scenes in the most appropriate ways that could, in the hands of many ‘stars’ be tamed or over played.
Also he manages to totally convince as a middle-aged urban police detective despite being considerably younger than the character’s intended age but, there are points here where he genuinely looks and acts like a truly broken and wrecked man in a way many ‘A-listers’ might not, but in doing so certainly puts himself even further into the rarefied air of mainstream movies biggest names.
The rest of the cast features many recogniseable faces from British cinema and TV with Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent and John Sessions in particular standing out. Marsan in particular is a highlight as Robbo’s ‘best friend’ who is a major element in creating the Filth’s more humourous side despite being bullied and, at times, abused by Robbo.
The film itself is a fantastical ride through ‘Robbo’s’ descent that uses both naturalism and sudden, fractured surrealism and almost Brechtian devices to paint its picture and really get into the head of its lead, but saying too much of them here could spoil the surprise when pop up, but its safe to say Jim Broadbent is used to fantastic effect and the timing of these moments gives the film an off beat edge that is rarely seen in the multiplex.
Across the film there is also a lot of humour to be had, if you can divert any politically correct sensibilities, which helps make it more than just the depressing dirge a story like this could easily become – though coming from Welsh this is to be expected, but the film captures this edge very well.
While the film is slightly imbalanced in places and also sometimes has a very 90s sensibility, thanks in part to the setting and source material but something that film has moved away from since then, it is still very enjoyable and showcases James McAvoy in particular and should take his career and reputation to new heights.