Directed by: Jon S. Baird.
Written by: Jon S. Baird based on the novel by Irvine Welsh.
Starring: James McAvoy (Bruce), Jamie Bell (Lennox), Eddie Marsan (Bladesey), Imogen Poots (Drummond), Brian McCardie (Gillman), Emun Elliott (Inglis), Gary Lewis (Gus), John Sessions (Toal), Shauna Macdonald (Carole), Jim Broadbent (Dr. Rossi), Joanne Froggatt (Mary), Kate Dickie (Chrissie), Martin Compston (Gorman).
Filth is a movie that never really makes up its mind as to what kind of movie it wants to be. It is a portrait of depravity which at times seems to darkly comedic, and at times wants to be deadly serious – often at the same time. It makes for a schizophrenic movie in many ways, which may have been the intent, since it matches the mindset of its main character – brilliantly played by James McAvoy who holds absolutely nothing back. But even if that was the intent, watching the movie is an odd, not altogether satisfying experience.
McAvoy stars as Bruce, a Detective working in Scotland who is one of several of his colleagues up for a big promotion. In order to ensure he gets that promotion – that he desperately wants for reasons that don’t become clear until later in the movie (or more accurately the movie doesn’t spell it out until late in the movie, even though it’s obvious) he sets out trying to humiliate everyone else in his office, while also trying to solve a murder case (although he spends significantly less time trying to do that, assuming competency isn’t something they are looking for in this promotion). But the plot is really secondary to the dark portrait of Bruce – whose mental state steadily deteriorates throughout the movie, and he engages in increasingly depraved behavior. McAvoy is great in the role. Normally, McAvoy plays such good characters, but here he lets out all his inner demons. This is one of the darkest roles of the year, and McAvoy doesn’t shy away from it.
The film was adapted by a novel by Irvine Welsh – who also wrote Trainspotting. Danny Boyle’s 1996 film based on that book, walked that fine line between darkly comedic, and horrifically tragic. Filth tries to walk that same line, but never really finds the right balance. The dark humor isn’t very funny, the depraved behavior seems to be there simply for shock value. The movie tries to match the mental state of its main character, which if it was able to pull off would have made the film a masterpiece. But it’s such a tricky balancing act, and writer-director Jon S. Baird never quite gets that balance correct. So what we end up with is an inconsistent movie, that has great ambitions, that it fails to live up to. McAvoy is brilliant in the lead role – whatever the failings of the movie are not his fault – but the film doesn’t come close to matching him. It’s an honorable failure – but it’s still a failure.