Sometimes being bad is just bad. So this is about crooked Scottish cop Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) who is battling not only with his colleagues for a promotion, but also with himself, as he is consistently deteriorating with alcoholism, drug abuse and questionable sexual practices. Now this is an atypical role for McAvoy; I don’t know about you, but when I see that he’s in a movie, I immediately think it’s going to be high end art, namely because of Atonement and how much he cries in any given film.
With Filth, it establishes very early on what a disgruntled terrible person he is, which subconsciously gave me expectations for the remainder of the film. It starts off fun, and whenever he is antagonizing with some sort of insult or put down, it’s darkly funny. Based upon this start and from what I had already seen in the trailer, I was led to believe this was going to be something akin to a Scottish Bad Santa. That isn’t what this is at all. As the story goes on, the jokes start to become fewer and farther between, until you realize that what you are actually witnessing is a man burn out in a hallucinatory self-destructive blaze. I was trying to pinpoint a movie I can compare this to, and I would say the closest that it probably falls to is In Bruges (with umpteen times the amount of debauchery), as it tries to make the antihero work his way toward some sort of redemption. In that sense, I don’t think it fully succeeds, and I would have loved to see this in Martin McDonagh’s hands. This is a character study of a disgusting human being who is always walking on the knife’s edge of sanity, pushing himself to the verge of losing it completely with abuse. They try to humanize him, but he’s a monster, and any good deed or virtue he exhibits rings false because it feels so out of character. As a result, he was somebody that fully held my attention, because I was always interested in observing him, but I was never able to form a connection, as I was just waiting the entire time for karma to crush the guy. The situations he gets himself in are engaging, and he is fully capable of solving problems, although he only has himself to blame for the majority of them.
This is not for the easily offended, and I’m pretty sure there is something sexual or drug related every five minutes like clockwork. It’s nowhere near as entertaining as the trailer presents itself to be, but I will give credit in that it was always doing something interesting that kept me engaged. The Scottish dialect can be challenging, but if you’ve seen Trainspotting (which, coincidentally, shares the same author as this), you should be fine, although subtitles won’t hurt. This is an uneven product that you’re likely going to walk away from with mixed feelings; it goes places that you don’t expect it to go, but you don’t know how you feel when it actually gets there.
Filth (2013) ***
– Critic for Hire