film review – Filth

Filth is the adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name and the story of the scheming and deranged Detective Bruce Robertson. Bruce is a man of vices: he drinks too much, is into drugs, loves sex (especially with married women) and also gets sadistic pleasure from playing the people around him and turning them against each other. Yes, there’s something very wrong with Bruce and, as a result, the movie is as decidedly crazy as its terrible but fascinating protagonist. It’s a dark film, something the faint of heart or squeamish had better not watch, a bonkers and raunchy character study that, ultimately, is interesting all the way through but not entirely satisfying.

At first there’s not much semblance of a plot, but the little there is is about Bruce’s attempts at solving a murder; not because it is his job to do so or because he wants to serve justice, but because it increases his chances of getting a coveted promotion. A dirty game ensues, a string of events the title quite handily sums up. This jumping-off point is immediately the least interesting part of the movie, merely an excuse to set Bruce and the viewers on their descent into a drug-, sex- and booze-riddled Scottish hell. Much like A Clockwork Orange or Danny Boyle’s classic 1996 Irvine Welsh adaptation Trainspotting, there’s an inherent madness and unease to Filth, something that sets your teeth on edge. James McAvoy’s turn here is a brilliant one and he carries the movie with his depiction of a wreck of a human being that’s both explicit and enigmatic, devilish and tragic, repulsive and strangely electrifying. His Bruce is a man who’s utterly repulsive but despite his actions you can’t help but feel for him, because of the sadness, doubt and loathing behind his eyes, the pain he tries so hard to cover up with substance abuse and animosity.

It’s unfortunate then that the film’s ending, more accurately: its focus, is something of a disappointment. It throws a twist at you that a) astonishes, but b) is quite gimmicky and serves shock value more than anything else. It throws viewers for a loop, which makes it entirely memorable, but it also cheapens the film because beforehand Filth offers its audience tiny puzzle pieces to Bruce’s history that seem to lead toward a more emotional and grounded conclusion. No, Filth goes off the deep end instead and with it makes the overall experience seem rather shallow because it fails to bring the sometimes seemingly endless string of atrocities to a meaningful conclusion. Trainspotting started off with a similarly (alright, slightly less) deranged character committing reprehensible acts, but that movie’s turning point was powerful because it focused on its emotion, depth and character instead of style. It slowed down, juxtaposed its breakneck pace and madness with calm and quiet, to great effect. It’s Filth‘s focus on its presentation, the brash and loud way it chooses to reveal its twist over a more nuanced and character-driven take, that rings false. Much like Bruce himself, Filth doesn’t know when to slow down and take a deep breath, and because of it the movie flies off the handle.

Filth uses a sledgehammer all the time, and it’s numbing. Some smaller moments prove its scalpel is just as powerful, but Filth uses this tool too sparingly. 7/10

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