It’s amazing what talented actors can do for a film. This is a tonally uneven, badly scripted and rather vile film that plunges into its nihilistic cravings with gleeful abandon, and if it weren’t for McAvoy’s fearless performance and the efforts put in by his costars it would be completely unwatchable. McAvoy plays a policeman who is gunning for a promotion, not by solving a pressing murder case, but by undermining his colleagues. This is a man who isn’t above blackmailing underage girls into sex and ripping apart his colleagues’ lives in order to get what he wants. He is exactly the kind of man we would call the police about, if it weren’t for the fact that he is a prominent member of the force.
One way of summarising Filth would be to say it is the uninspired lovechild of Trainspotting (another Irvine Welsh adaptation) and A Clockwork Orange, where the former has the intelligence and humanity taken out of its treatment of the Scottish underworld and in its place has the latter’s nasty and exploitative violence injected in. Filth is out of control with a broken screenplay that noticed just how effective Trainspotting‘s excessive moments of sex and drugs were and decided to write a screenplay chock-full of such moments without letting them have room to breathe. The film lurches from one explicit/unpleasant scene to another without actually tying them together with any sort of meaningful character development or plot. The initial Machiavellian plot of ousting competitors for a promotion starts out as pretty interesting but quickly gets buried beneath a pile of cinematic mucus which it can’t shake off. Ultimately this is shock for shock’s sake rather than the intriguing character study which it could have been.
As the film progresses we move further and further away from the ‘real world’ and more and more inside the head of our lead, and that’s a dangerous place to be. Bruce hallucinates his way through a fair portion of the film and this is where the screenplay looses control of the film. It’s hard to depict any form of insanity from the perspective of the one affected without the film either becoming incomprehensible or worse yet unbelievable, and Filth manages to fall into both camps. It loses the plot without painting either a meaningful or a very disciplined portrait of madness and substance intake, and that is its greatest failing.
During the course of the film you’re unwittingly swept along by McAvoy’s performance as you wonder what new level of depravity and insanity his character will sink to. The actor somehow manages to bring a strange sense of charm and empathy to the monster he is portraying, and although the film never challenges us by asking us to understand and accept him, through McAvoy’s efforts we have some connection to him which keeps us going throughout the course of the film. He isn’t enough to be able to save the film but it’s extremely exciting to see him throw caution to the wind and tackle something like this. In fact despite how much I didn’t like the film it was worth seeing Filth in order to develop a greater appreciation for the talent of James McAvoy and to become excited about his future projects.
What is the film’s greatest strength? That’s easy, James McAvoy is fantastic.
Its greatest weakness? The screenplay needed a lot of work.
Would I see it again? No, I think once was enough.
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