It’s impossible to write about this adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth without mentioning Danny Boyle’s seminal 1996 film. I tried, but it just kept coming out like Renton found in the Worst Toilet in Scotland. Trainspotting was depraved, hilarious, cutting, original and daring. There have been two other films made from Welsh’s books in these intervening years, but only Filth comes anywhere resembling close to matching the genius and perfection of that first adaptation. It’s still far off thanks to a number of problems, but the strength of its central performance is a major draw.
The film follows Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) of the Edinburgh Constabulary, a racist, homophobic, sexist, violent and abusive addict, as he takes on the case of a murdered exchange student. In a recognisably Welsh fashion we are introduced to our main character through narration and fourth wall breaking. The first part of the film is a very funny journey with the loquacious, bent cop, who spends more time attempting to undermine his fellow officers who are in competition with him for a promotion, than work the case. His colleagues aren’t a great advert for the force either, such as Jamie Bell’s coked up newbie Ray, with only Imogen Poot’s Amanda qualifying as a decent human being. Bruce also draws his unassuming masonic brother Clifford Blades (a great Eddie Marsan) into his ‘games’, like harassing his wife over the phone or dropping a couple of E’s into his drink on a trip to Germany (a highlight of the film). Welsh hasn’t lost his talent for offensive, hilarious sentence construction, and his is an entertainingly unflattering portrait of Scotland, one he no doubt revels in.
As we follow our ‘hero’, the journey with Bruce becomes increasingly unhinged, drug-fuelled and revealing. The darkness increases, the hallucinations bleed into the real world, and we discover problems with his marriage, childhood and prescribed lithium carbonate. The fantasy sequences scattered throughout are rather hit and miss. Perhaps somewhat understandably, for a script adapted from a book where large sections are narrated by a tapeworm, there are some over-expositionary scenes, especially whereJim Broadbent’s psychiatrist is involved. The tonal shifts can jar, but keeping it all together is McAvoy. This is by far the best performance of his career – at turns funny or charming, at others pitiable or terrifying, McAvoy’s is an incredibly forceful accomplishment that drives everything.
Director Jon S. Baird has done a fine job of creating a coherent narrative and getting great performances out of his leads, and where the film falters is hard to pin down – but he can’t quite sustain the energy of the first 30 minutes, and the focus gets lost in the last act. However, it earns your attention with its humour, willingness to go all out, and McAvoy’s Robertson, a sociopath for the ages.
Filth is released in cinemas starting today.
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots, Eddie Marsan
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Distributed by: Icon Film