Filth will leave you feeling dirty
At first glance, Filth seemed to have a great deal going for it. The fact it is adapted from the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh will whet many people’s appetite, preparing the viewer for another humorous and endearingly offensive exploration of the dark perversities of the human psyche. However, if you are expecting something of similar brilliance to Danny Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting, lower your expectations now. While Welsh’s rich and layered style lends well to experimentation, Filth is a muddled genre-bender – somewhere between a crime drama, a tragedy and a warped Carry On film.
James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a homophobic, misogynistic bent copper with a penchant for cocaine and sexually blackmailing underage girls. The plot follows Bruce’s relentless pursuit of a promotion, and his later descent into madness.
It begins as a broad comedy, Bruce farting in a meeting and popping a child’s balloon, while the latter half takes a more dramatic turn, becoming more surreal and intriguing as Bruce’s loneliness and disintegrating mind begins to take its toll. Trainspotting made a similar shift masterfully, but here the transition is too jarring, too much of a leap. The image of Renton diving into a poo-smeared bookie’s toilet or seeing the corpse of a baby crawling towards him were genuinely creepy and pushed Boyle’s film in a new direction. Here, Bruce’s mania and hallucinations of animal heads fail to affect or even scare the viewer.
Meanwhile, director John S Baird’s attempts to wring some pathos out of the story are transparent and grating. At one point, when our anti-hero tries to save a woman’s husband from a heart attack, we’re awkwardly led to try and sympathise with him; suddenly he is emotional, vulnerable and human. However, it comes off as sentimental and utterly contrived.
While the performances were never going to be understated – this is Irvine Welsh we’re talking about – they are in the end so outlandish they feel completely divorced from reality. McAvoy certainly gives it his all, and the film boasts an impressive supporting cast – including Jim Broadbent as Bruce’s doctor and Eddie Marsan as his nerdy accountant friend Bladesey – but they all come off disposable and cartoonish. This isn’t the talent’s fault; clearly, the brief was to be as theatrical as possible, but Baird simply takes it too far.
While certainly faithful to the nihilistic fervour of Welsh’s work, Baird forgets that biting satire must always have at least one finger-hold on reality. Trainspotting was bold and sleek without reducing our heroin injecting heroes to mere caricatures. They were real, almost identifiable, meaning the film’s climax had a euphoric punch. Filth, on the other hand, just leaves you feeling dirty.
Sarah Holland is a film writer based in Brighton. She blogs at Girl On Film.
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