If you weren’t a fan of James McAvoy’s already impressive credentials it’s most definitely time you let yourself be moved from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other by his performance as Bruce Robertson, a detective sergeant in Jon S. Baird’s feature film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth. McAvoy has been working in movies and television since 1995, more recently being known Trance, Punch, Arthur Christmas, X-Men: First Class, The Conspirator, Gnomeo and Juliet, The last Station, Wanted, Atonement, The Last King of Scotland just to name a few. His vast experience is most definitely on show.
The opening scenes reminded me of Shakespeare’s Richard III. The game is set, the lines are drawn and you are watching Machiavellian thought processes. Except this is one pretender who never gets the crown. It’s a performance like no other where the protagonist Bruce is a hallucinatory, bi-polar, corrupt, drug taking, adulterous, hedonistic detective crashing into a breakdown through a murder inquiry which becomes the subplot to Bruce’s machinations to discredit and unnerve his contenders for a promotion, as well as juggle the strains of a marital crisis and hide his deviant sexual tastes, addictions and mania.
As a viewer you see him move from pathos to psychotic insight which may be thoroughly uncomfortable for many to watch. But Baird’s fast paced plot will swiftly take you into humour so black, laughing out loud is not only spontaneous but compulsory.
When James McAvoy smiles there’s something of the smiling german shepherd about him. The draw back of his lips, teeth bared, you are never quite sure what will flash from his mind but it’s brilliant, it’s not James, it’s one hundred percent pure Bruce Robertson and you quickly realize that this smile might suddenly implode as McAvoy accurately displays symptoms of mania including flight of ideas, grandiosity, elation, poor judgment, aggressiveness, and exceptional hostility. Whether or not he is taking his lithium, what we are watching is a high speed train wreck.
In a fraction of a second we watch the protagonist Bruce change from evil destruction to vulnerable compassion; he is the edge of the darkest of nightmares. Even the detail of bitten down nails ties in with the feeling of desperation as he pulls his hands over his face in a moment of effort trying to plug himself back into reality wherein he slips deeper and deeper into the lair of the tapeworm of his own mania. This is indeed a worthy adaptation of Welsh’s novel.
An unexpected line of honesty and vulnerability comes as Bruce fails to perform sexually for one of his extra marital interests and he simply admits to her ‘I’m not well’. This gentle moment teases one to think that somewhere, Jung’s hero’s journey might just be coming into play, but thankfully, that is the realm of Hollywood and certainly not independent films such as Filth, where the stark reality of life continues to smash its way through making you weep one minute with laughter and recoil the next in disgust.
Supporting performances by the hauntingly beautiful Imogen Poots, Iain De Casetecer, Joanne Froggat, Jamie Bell and Jim Broadbent to name but a few of this talented cast are all perfectly placed with special mention to go to Eddie Marsan as the gullible Bladesy and Shirley Henderson as the fantastically cheeky Bunty, the object of Bruce’s prank obscene phone calls.
It’s a fabulous story and although somewhat less than the novel, this hard core film maintains the pace and angst, the comedy and the humour of the book as the script is deliciously accurate to the intrinsic value of each character we see. What’s also very interesting is that at no point do you hate the protagonist. How can you hate such a character who is clearly losing the game? How can you empathise with psychosis because it really is a singular sensation? But don’t be deceived, in amongst the filth, the mire the outrageously non-pc attitudes, it is still a tale with a moral, where unexpectedly, love and light still has a place. I loved it so much I watched it three times and each time, I left sated. Now that’s got to say something.
Filth, 2013 UK 97 minutes 18 rating
Director Jon S. Baird
Text: © JL Nash, 2013