Filth is a Scottish crime movie that released in September of 2013 in Scotland. It progressively released in other countries until finally making its debut here in the States back in May of 2014. I don’t live near an art house theater (which was the central projector of the film) so I had to wait until the release of the blu-ray to watch it. That day is today. Filth and Locke both released today, so expect a review for Locke very soon. For now, though, I’ll talk about Filth, a movie so grim and gloomy that it takes its label of “black comedy” and turns it into just “black.”
Writer/director Jon S. Baird adapts this screenplay for from the 1998 novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the Scottish author famous for his novel Trainspotting, which was adapted into the popular film from Danny Boyle. Danny Boyle also directed the recent heist movie Trance, which also starred James McAvoy. These are the random connections the film buff inside of me finds. Moving on. McAvoy plays Bruce, a Detective Sergeant in Scotland who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s into drugs, abusive sex, alcoholism, and a nice little set of “games” that he likes to play on his co-workers. He also likes to mess with Clifford (Eddie Marson), his best mate, by prank calling his wife. Bruce isn’t content with his life though. He wants a promotion. And the entirety of Filth is just about his attempt to achieve that goal. But it’s also a bit of a small character examination.
Filth is a movie that likes to take things from other movies before it and rehash them. That serves as a problem. It isn’t a new or even remotely unique film. It’s a movie about a bad cop. We’ve seen this loads of times before. Bad Lieutenant rings a bell. But it isn’t the same because this one is comedic. Right? Not really. I hardly laughed in this movie. It tries so hard to be funny but it really just comes off as a bit too grimy to be comic.
That isn’t to say that the movie isn’t comedic at all though. It has its moments. Some scenes really showcase Bruce’s really nutty side, even if it’s messed up. At one point he switches the TV to Frank Sidebottom which I found funny because McAvoy is most famous for playing Charles Xavier in the recent X-Men films alongside Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Fassbender is the star of the film Frank, in which his character wears a mask that looks like Frank Sidebottom. Again, these are the connections my brain makes. I vividly remember one scene in which Bruce thinks up a prank at a party and tells his male co-workers to put their genitalia on a photocopier and compare sizes. Of course Bruce knows the trick. He hits the enlarge button on the photocopier numerous times and laughs as the woman he had been hitting on sees the final size. When they have sex, she realizes he isn’t as big as the photo made it seem, and you can see James McAvoy’s face awaiting the disappointment. When it comes, he reacts with laughter and you realize that this guy has a great sense of humor and somehow he becomes likable.
And how about James McAvoy? He gives a sensational performance. One that is layered with a variation of different emotions and expressions. This is his movie through and through, and he knocks it out of the park yet again with another terrific performance. Jamie Bell (Snowpiercer) gives some strong supporting work as well as Eddie Marsdan (Sherlock Holmes, The World’s End). Jim Broadbent (Horas Slughorn from the Harry Potter franchise) gives his typically outrageous supporting work as a sort of therapist in scenes that are dreamlike in style. Imogen Poots (Need for Speed) rocks her sexy accent once again and does a terrific job at being meaningful unlike her role in That Awkward Moment.
Also worth noting is that the film had this very interesting recurring focus of Bruce’s former girlfriend and her dressing up and going out. The movie practically opened with her confronting some bully’s in a tunnel of sorts. I didn’t understand why it was necessary until the final act. Even then I wasn’t sure what to think. It took a weird turn and I’m still processing it. Even if I didn’t like it, at least it’s one that stuck with me.
Is Filth entertaining? Yes it is. Is it admirable? I think so. Is it necessarily good? I can’t really say that. Because despite the strong acting, the movie never quite becomes anything spectacular. It’s very grimy, which is probably just its way of being faithful to the source material. In the end, though, I don’t feel like it works as well as it wants to. Don’t get me wrong, James McAvoy is terrific in the film, he gives one of his most ballistic performances to date, and the filmmaking looks fairly good. It’s easy to compare this one to Dom Hemingway since both follow loud mouthed and profane “protagonists” who don’t really act like protagonists at all. They’re both competent, but all I’m saying is this: if the two of them were boxers and they got into a ring together, Dom Hemingway would come out on top.
Rated R for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use, language, and some violence
Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marson, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots
Writer: Jon S. Baird
Director: Jon S. Baird