Director: Jon S. Baird
Cast: James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Shirley Henderson, John Sessions, Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggatt
Plot: Nasty Glasgow cop, Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) is looking forward to a potential promotion and his life turns into a bitter game to claim that position.
Filth is the kind of book no one would really want to go near when it comes to movie adaptions. Written by Irvine Welsh, an author only Danny Boyle could make cinematically a success, it tells the tale of a mentally ill police detective, with little redeeming features and so mentally unhinged, you are never quite sure if what you are reading is real or not. Jon S. Baird is in charge of turning this novel into a feature film, a director who seemed a little bland back when I reviewed his only other movie, Cass. I was sceptical he could pull it off, but I was proved very, very wrong.
Baird rummages through the book and gives us a steady narrative, so the movie could at least become rooted in some form of sense. Bruce Robertson wants a promotion and in order to get it, he goes about disgracing colleagues and undermining everyone around him, so when the dust settles, he will come out like a dream cop. In order to do this, he sleeps around the department and ends up grassing his friends up for crimes he committed. He quickly becomes a very hated person. All the while, we slowly become aware that there isn’t something quite right about certain sides of the story and Baird pulls us deeper and deeper into the crazy mind of this corrupt cop.
The best thing about Filth is the sense of humour. If you cannot wrap your head around the subtle clues and references to the book and true answer to the mystery, simply strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. Understanding this film comes later; for now, just laugh along. And Baird gives us plenty to laugh at. Robertson is so nasty, you find yourself chuckling as he spikes his best friend’s drinks or starts a Christmas office party game that reveals his partner’s lack of size in the penis department. Every other character is pretty much on cameo duty, so they go for broke, turning themselves into larger than life symbols rather than coherent peoples. For example, one of the cops in Robertson’s office is meant to be a nasty bloke. To show us this, Baird cuts to a small shot of the cop marching up and down a corridor dressed in a Hitler uniform and cuts away again. We get that he is a fascist dick, one of Irvine’s small digs at the police force, and that’s all we need to know. On with the story.
The only character really given more than a cameo is of course the lead (hero isn’t really the right term for Bruce Robertson). This is James McAvoy as we have never seen him before, his boyish good guy image stripped away and set on fire. At first, you can’t help but laugh as the actor has a field day in the kind of role no one else would have trusted him with. But it gets deeper, as the mental illness takes hold and we see the cracks begin to show. McAvoy has portrayed the broken hero before this year with Trance, but while he was rooted in the shadows of Danny Boyle’s mystery, here he just goes for broke. I was reminded of a theatre production. We had the flawed protagonist, the larger than life setting and a tragic downfall. The ending might prove a little brutal for some, but when you consider the rest of the material, you knew where it was going to end up anyway.
Baird has totally changed my mind on him, as a director. While in Cass, he seemed to just tell the story, with Filth he spices up proceedings a bit with some nice touches. He mirrors the dark story with an uplifting soundtrack. The surreal scenes are heavily stylised and wonderful to look at. The story is told quickly through montages, but we never get lost unless the original author, Welsh, wants us to be scratching our heads. This film could have been too much. I went in, expecting another ‘Only God Forgives’; too symbolic to really make much sense and appeal to the wider audience. However, Filth keeps on a level where you can enjoy it and respect it at the same time. An outstanding success, considering the tricky book.
Final Verdict: So much could have gone wrong, but Jon S. Baird and James McAvoy keep Filth grounded in humour, never losing touch with the dark undertones of the book.