Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Produced by: Jon S. Baird
Screenplay by: Jon S. Baird
Based on: Filth by Irvine Welsh
Starring: James McAvoy
Music by: Clint Mansell
Cinematography by: Matthew Jensen
Editing by: Mark Eckersley
Studio(s): Steel Mill Pictures
Film i Vast
Distributed by: Lionsgate (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): September 16, 2013 (Old Taito International Comedy Film Festival)
September 27, 2013 (Scotland)
October 4, 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 97 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
Production budget: (Not Available)
Box-office revenue (as of publication): £250, 000 (Scotland; first weekend receipts only)
Land ahoy! At least, the metaphorical landscape on the horizon of the mind. You doubtless already know, Halloween is just around the corner, and as such, although I'm sure I'll get to the cinema, I've made contingency plans in case I'm too afraid to walk the streets and bump into Freddy Krueger, never mind the McDonalds on the Newtownards Road! I've got copies of Sanitarium, The Lords Of Salem and Stoker (courtesy of Danland Movies), and also a copy of a film called Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood, which I know next to nothing about and am going into blind. So, for all the latest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!
Although certainly not classified as such in genre terms, this film is something along the lines of what Alexander DeLarge would describe as "real horrorshow!" Filth is adapted from the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, and for those of you who don't know, I'm a huge fan of Welsh's literature, and I feel that I he is among the best writers of the past twenty-five years. His debut novel Trainspotting, a literary masterwork, was of course adapted into a cinematic masterwork in 1996 by John Hodge and directed by Danny Boyle, and while there have been other Welsh adaptations (1998's The Acid House, 2011's Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy), Filth has some big shoes to fill with the former film hanging over it. However, it is a very different kettle of fish to Trainspotting, and in terms of the material, having read much of Welsh's work, I would say it's his most transgressive and troublesome book, given the scale of the protagonist's misanthropy. James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a cruel Machiavellian who treats everyone around him like dirt, habitually indulges in copious amounts of cocaine, alcohol and is involved in a number of sexually abusive relationships. In the midst of all his off-duty (and on-duty) activities, Robertson is involved in a murder investigation and engages ruthlessly in dirty one-upsmanship against his colleagues in order to advance his pursuit to gain the new promotion spot open for Detective Inspector. Now you see, yes?
To start with the good, James McAvoy gives an absolutely superb performance in the lead role. Having read the book, I won't lie, I imagined a different kind of actor in the part, more of a burly, Ray Winstone type, but McAvoy gets it spot on. Also, it's a very hard role to get over to the audience, as the character is so thoroughly loathsome, but McAvoy makes him so entertaining to watch. Completely immersing himself in the part, McAvoy not only looks every bit the part, but has all the appropriate facial expressions, tics and eccentricities that make up Bruce Robertson. His delivery of the lines in what is a pretty full-on script is note perfect, both with regards to his knowing how to play the timing of the dialogue and maintaining a fast and furious pace. Finally, although I'm sure I could go on and on about how great this performance is, McAvoy is able to make this loathsome character engaging enough to be consistently humorous, but also somehow manages to have the repugnant Robertson be sympathetic and full of pathos when the shit hits the proverbial fan for him. Also, although this is James McAvoy's movie, it's a solid ensemble cast, with Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent, Kate Dickie, Gary Lewis, Emun Elliot and Brian McCardie all putting out good work. Writer-director John S. Baird also must be praised for going all out and balls to the wall with this one, as the source is tough as hell, and this is the kind of adaptation that could have ended up really watered down. However, Baird sticks to his guns, translating the Welshian Edinburg Scots dialectical qualities with real strength, and proving himself a formidable scribe, the dialogue and situational comedy being among the most gross-out and outright hilarious things I have seen in a film all year. In a comedic climate that features films like Grown Ups 2 and The Hangover Part III, Filth's many belly-laughs are a real pleasure. Furthermore, and this is a praise for him in his capacities as director and writer (plus producer), as I said, when the shit hits the fan, it really does, and Baird has enough strength of conviction to depict the serious issues of his protagonist's character and follow it through to it's natural conclusion. It is equal parts comedy and drama, and at certain points, it gels the two together into this bizarre and surreal black tragedy. Another aspect of the film that is praiseworthy is the score by Clint Mansell. One of our great contemporary composers is most of the time a pleasure, and he maintains the pace of the film set out by Baird's script. Where he really shines however is in the downward spiral scenes, many of which are played out as mostly-silent montages, not only meaning that we have a lack of basil expository nonsense, but also that Mansell can, with the use of his strings and minimalist keyboard notes, immerse us in the psychological space of Bruce Robertson. We know that Mansell can do absolute descent's well, but here he touches another plateau. The final major aspect of the film that I'd like to point out is the excellent editing on the part of Mark Eckersley. Hot off the heels of his work on Dredd last year, Eckersley makes what could be a scatter-brained mess of a film a wonderful pop-art tableau, mixing the colours together and forming a seamless picture. There are so many different aspects that could have been passed around like a hot potato, but Eckersley caresses them and ensures that they all slot in perfectly. In just about any other movie, they wouldn't fit, but the fact is is that they do, and Eckersley deserves to be praised for this.
In case you haven't gathered, I liked Filth. Heck, I'll even go so far as to say I loved it and had a great time. Nevertheless, I've gotta say that while it does so so much right, it unfortunately is not a masterpiece, great though it may be. My explanation defies traditional aspects of reviewing, for the approach I will be taking is far more subjective and requires a certain material comparison. If you put Filth (the text and the film) alongside Trainspotting (text and film), there's a key difference: you connect on a far deeper emotional level with the story of the latter than that of Filth. The journey that you and the characters go on in Trainspotting involves essentially a coming-of-age story of a bunch of aimless young men who happen to be stuck in a rut with heroin addiction, whereas here there's an element of Bruce Robertson winding on a downward spiral of his own creation. There's a wonderful element of reflexivity as the character of Robertson is clearly aware of this, and thus it is blackly tragic, but the fact doesn't change that while it's an excellent character, you just don't care about him as much as the Skagboys.
I wouldn't consider my completely subjective approach to reviewing the film as a condemnation, for while I certainly feel that Filth does not reach the heights of Trainspotting, most movies don't, and it doesn't change the fact that this is still a great movie. James McAvoy gives one of the best performances of the year, and completely immersed in creating the physical and emotional embodiment of the character, while the ensemble cast are uniformly solid. Also, writer-director Jon S. Baird sticks to his guns and refuses the water down the toughness of the Welsh source, delivering one of the funniest and well-balanced scripts of the year and a film with real strength of conviction. The Clint Mansell score too, particularly in the montage sequences, injects into our heads to the psychological landscape of Bruce Robertson. Finally, the editing by Mark Eckersley mixes the colours and makes the film, which could have been a scatterbrained mess, is instead a beautifully seamless pop-art tableau. And you'll never look at Billy Ocean's Love Really Hurts Without You the same way again!
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Meh!