Based on a 1998 novel by Irvine Welsh (the author of Trainspotting), Filth (2013) is a film about a mad and bad Scottish copper called Bruce Robertson, played by James MacAvoy. Directed by Jon S. Baird this time instead of Danny Boyle, Robertson is seeking a promotion to become Chief Inspector using ever more nefarious means alongside solving a local murder.
His antics range from prank dirty phone calls to drugging his friends to homophobic antagonism. This manipulative lothario is likeable in his complete disregard and antipathy towards almost the entire human race.
We follow his descent into insanity as it is increasingly revealed using a combination of dialogue and abstract hallucinations that his wife and daughter have left him, and he is harbouring a guilty secret (or two).
The film races between different scenes and incidents of violence and sex with barely time to breathe. You’d think this would be a good thing, and a bit like Trainspotting, but it was lacking in that utter depravity.
Filth plays on Trainspotting’s legacy to draw viewers into the cinema, a mainstay of nineties teenagers everywhere looking to make sense of the dark drugs counterculture steadfastly glossed over by mainstream portrayals – which either glamorise drugs or pretend that only hardened criminals take them. I went there expecting an extension of this icon of film history, which was probably a mistake.
Instead, Filth is a series of pasted-together scenes of MacAvoy alternately ploughing various “loose” women and snorting huge quantities of cocaine, interspersed with nightmarish hallucinations that appeared to be indicative of some vague, undisclosed mental condition.
The best performance is by Martin Compston playing Clifford Gorman, the shy, naïve accountant who is bullied by Bruce at every turn. The scene in which Bruce spikes his drink and the ensuing hallucinogenic trip is very well-acted indeed, especially when contrasted with the drivelling obsequiousness of his character.
Jim Broadbent plays the usual bumbling, upper-middle class, bow-tie wearing twit, and this time with bouts of crazy scientist doctor-man who has odd paintings on his surgery wall.
I have to say, this film really didn’t tie together all that well for me. It entirely lacks pathos when that seems almost as though what the director is trying to get you to feel, even if it is only to snatch it away at the last minute. I felt like I was constantly but dully exciting some emotion towards this film which never quite happened.
Even the supposedly crafty and evil perpetrators of the main crime are lacklustre, looking like they got lost on the way to put on a show for screaming teenage girls at Wembley Arena, in Scotland.
MacAvoy paints a good character, as always, and is so repulsively unkempt the costume department should definitely be commended, but this film just lacked in coherency. Downton Abbey’s Joanne Frogatt made an appearance as a rather weepy side-character, which was odd.
Perhaps postmodernist, anarchist filmmaking needs no proper narrative, but if so I will go back to watching the rom-coms I am supposed to like.