Filth Review

Filth Movie

rating: 4

As you would expect from an Irvine Welsh protagonist, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) isn't the most likely spokesman for the Scottish tourist board. A manic and manipulative narcissist, Robertson spares Baird the Sisyphean task of having us root for him in our first few minutes of meeting him, in a scene as representative as any of the film's cruel, caustic humour. When a boy raises his middle finger to Robertson, the copper simply snatches a balloon from the wee bairn's hands, smiles as it sails into the sky, and flips both middle fingers as a parting gesture. Later, upon raiding a suspect's home, he and partner Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) prove an intimidating double-act, but the manner in which Robertson blackmails a girl he believes to be having under-age sex is a decidedly darker shade of retribution, leaving Lennox- and us- with no doubt who the bad cop truly is. Angry and amoral he may be, but there lies a streak of ambition behind those bloated blue eyes: he is determined to beat his colleagues in line to an upcoming promotion. How else to win back his estranged wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald), whose oddly stylised opening monologue makes it perfectly clear that time is running out? What little we have in the way of plot - Robertson is to investigate the murder of a Japanese student by a street gang- is unceremoniously pushed aside to allow his Iago-esque smear campaign (which he euphemistically calls ''the games'') free rein: playing his colleagues/competitors against each other with a whisper here and a rumour there, lending a sympathetic ear while simultaneously twisting the knife. Crucially, he ensures that he is never considered by the Chief Inspector (John Sessions) to be anything less than the very model of honesty. Yet Robertson seems to spend every minute thinking up ways to shrug off our approval. He swears, he steals, he snorts coke, he even sleeps with his colleagues' wives. And he's more of a threat to the force than any number of street gangs. For instance, moments after lifting the wallet of fellow Freemason Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), Robertson promises to catch whoever has been making obscene phone calls to his wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson). Guess who the culprit could be. It is this sense of dramatic irony that either endears Robertson to his audience, implicating us in the most heinous of crimes before winning us over with a wry grin or wink to camera, or proves a step too far for its more high-minded members. But then, by this point you'll already know whether or not this is the film for you.

James Mcavoy Filth

Given the splenetic sprawl of the source material, Baird is to be commended for bringing the more outlandish elements to life. For example, Robertson's hallucinatory visions of his psychologist Dr Rossi (Jim Broadbent), equipped with an unusually large forehead, an oversized bottle of pills and a foghorn Australian accent, may scratch the surface of a childhood trauma but do little to soothe a junkie's nerves. The reason being that Rossi, (who, incidentally, has replaced the tapeworm that gnaws away at Robertson in in the novel- in between providing a few chunks of narration) has transformed into a terrifying man-pig hybrid. And it's a sight that becomes only more familiar... In detailing Robertson's decline, there is precious little that Filth will refuse to show - much less play for laughs- but in doing so it runs the risk of becoming a series of shock tactics hastily strung together. The jokes may be bawdy (if a little too broad at times) but there is certainly enough to make you laugh, plenty more to make you cringe and it's impossible not to be swept away by the flood of grotesque, gross-out humour that soaks every scene like a blocked sewer. But not everything works. A scene surrounding a staff party putting the photocopier to unconventional use is seemingly framed only to serve a one-note punchline, practically every one of Robertson's colleagues is a stock character and as Carole appears intermittently throughout the film, her porcelain face staring out from a sparse nightclub backdrop like a New Wave music video, we wonder just how her scenes- especially an impromptu musical number featuring David Soul as a taxi driver- contribute, if at all, to the rest of the film. A third act revelation doesn't quite answer our concerns, choosing instead to float the possibility that Robertson may not be the most reliable of narrators... Filth Movie Edited 1 The film's Christmas setting lends a melancholic air to proceedings, with Robertson set to spend the big day with only his empty bottles for company. And there is a poignant symmetry in the return of Mary (Joanne Frogatt), the widow of a heart-attack victim Robertson had tried to revive, as we pin our hopes on her being able to bring Bruce back from the brink. But, after ninety minutes of unfettered depravity and disorder, a sudden Scrooge-like epiphany would simply be a betrayal. Make no mistake, Robertson can be a monster - a shambling mess whose relentless cycle of crash-and-burn throws him from self-destruction to self-pity. But, by God, he's fun to watch. This is of course due to McAvoy's outstanding performance as a one-man army of opprobrium. The way in which he terrorises Clifford and Bunty in particular should surely rank among the most uncomfortable scenes in comedy (those lurid phone calls really need to be heard - and seen- to be believed). And, from a strong supporting cast, it is Marsan who leaves the greater impression. A meek and unassuming cuckold, he plays the victim with an almost unbearable conviction. Which, given the competition, is quite an achievement. Filth may struggle at times to contain its central performance but, with a host as rude, riotous and rancid as Bruce Robertson, it's a flaw you can most certainly forgive. Filth Filth is in cinemas now. Click "next" below to read James McAvoy: 5 Awesome Performances And 5 That Sucked...
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Yorkshireman (hence the surname). Often spotted sacrificing sleep and sanity for the annual Leeds International Film Festival. For a sample of (fairly) recent film reviews, please visit whatsnottoblog.wordpress.com.