Since I’ve previously indulged in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting on numerous occasions, happily stumbling through my very first drug-fueled Irvine Welsh adaptation, Filth isn’t exactly a surprising endeavor by any means. Granted, it’s an absolutely bonkers character study injected with heaping mounds of Columbia’s finest and enough sexual expression to make Hugh Hefner blush, but this is signature Welsh material. Filth isn’t a Danny Boyle flick though, so questions surrounding relative newbie Jon S. Baird’s ability to capture the same “controlled” insanity immediately arise – which he confidently dismisses after a raucous introduction.
Filth is far more than a Scottish dark comedy about the most crooked cop in history, as Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) slowly reveals an entire army of inner demons over the course of this sinisterly tragic downward spiral. Everything starts out cheekily enough when Robertson reveals his plan to sabotage every other detective standing in between him and a huge promotion, but as his inherent seediness drags everyone around him into a pit of despair, Robertson’s own life tears at the seams. There’s no bigger bastard than Bruce Robertson, but Welsh’s story chronicles what exactly turned the cop into an obsessive, dastardly pig of a man.
James McAvoy is nothing but a scene-stealer as the deviant Bruce Robertson, bravely exploring the psychotic unraveling that comes along with ignoring help, medication and a possible future of sanity. Robertson can be described as an anti-hero, even though mentioning the word “hero” during 90% of Baird’s film might seem laughable, but Welsh enjoys exploring McAvoy’s character in terms of the mental layers that peel back the deeper he dives into an irate and uncontrollable psychosis. Robertson isn’t pure filth because of personal enjoyment, but instead a hazy state brought upon by years of denial and mental deterioration, turning Filth itself into a responsive commentary on emotional treatment. Robertson chooses to self-medicate with uppers, downers and any numbing substances that can be easily attained, and his story becomes a warning – a heavy, distraught story about screaming for help yet never accepting an outreached hand.
Yet Filth is undeniably entertaining, perverse, and wildly inappropriate in the best of ways, because McAvoy employs an impish Scotsman charm, albeit with a serpent’s tongue. Wooing women while weaving a master plan, whether Robertson is giving wee children the double bird or lying through his teeth to co-workers, there’s an alluring quality to McAvoy’s performance as we assume he can’t possibly become any more vile – then he resets the bar for the millionth time. Each line is spot on, and there’s an impressive nature when listening to McAvoy spit lightning quick banter at the likes of Jamie Bell and Eddie Marsan, wittily dancing around any topic with graceful poise, almost like a sick salesman. Robertson starts out playing a deceptive game before Welsh’s story turns into its darkest timeline, and while still keeping afoot, McAvoy remains at his most personable, engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny.
Baird sucks us into the world of Irvine Welsh much like Boyle does throughout Trainspotting, creating his own memorable moments akin to Boyle’s “Baby On The Ceiling” hellscape. Spliced throughout Filth are Robertson’s inner diversions, featuring Jim Broadbent as a shrink with a gigantic forehead who refuses to let McAvoy’s character forget a torturous past, and his office exists in some kind of distorted realm with pills bigger than your head. Characters are also represented by animals, showcased most prominently whenever Robertson catches a glimpse of himself with a cartoonish pig’s head, which again are nothing but deranged hallucinations. As Robertson dives deeper down the rabbit’s hole, we’re pulled into the abyss with him, giving us insight into the maddening thought process of such an unstable character – an understanding we desperately need if we’re to stay invested in Robertson’s ever-evolving repugnance.
One wouldn’t expect an actionless cop dramedy to really be dependent on a Blu-Ray transfer, but when dealing in Welsh’s vibrant world, there are many different colors, realities, and intricate details worth capturing. Thinking of the glitzy flashbacks to Robertson’s wife, there’s a very old-school filter, like we’re watching a classy burlesque show sporting a heavily stylized sharpness needing crisper displays. Welsh’s universes always explode with life, and this Blu-Ray captures said vibrancy on screen, but a killer soundtrack also compliments contrasting actions. Clint Mansell scores pitch-perfect sequences, especially listening to his rendition of “Creep” with Coco Sumner, and a cleverly juxtaposed balancing of theme and song ends up being one of the most delightful parts of Filth itself.
- Commentary With Director Jon S. Baird And Author Irvine Welsh
- Deleted, Extended And Alternate Scenes
- On The Set: Merry Filthmas
- James McAvoy As Detective Bruce Robertson: The Antihero
- AXS TV: A Look At Filth
When glancing through the Special Features available, I had the most fun hearing Irvine Welsh explain his thought process behind constructing the character of Bruce Robertson, and voicing his intentions. The author is a very intelligent man, so hearing him speak offers weighty insights into a more challenging film, but hearing how McAvoy got the role was a bit interesting itself, as many were afraid he’d be too handsome and dashing for the role. Besides the “Antihero” discussion, there are some funny bits in the Outtakes, a few chewy nuggets about setting Filth during Christmas and a commentary featuring more Welsh, but besides that, the rest are regular throwaway incentives.
Don’t misconstrue the intentions of Filth, because simply assuming Baird’s film favors bastardization would be a gross miscalculation. Filth is a study – a hilarious study – that takes us on an unexpected journey that’s both polarizing and sympathetic. I don’t doubt that viewers who pride themselves on morality will find no pleasure in McAvoy’s rampant debauchery, but Welsh’ character study reveals much more about emotional sickness than Ben Robertson’s absolute adoration of f#ckery. Don’t feel bad for enjoying Filth – just make sure it’s for the right reasons.
Filth is twisted, demented and despicable fun until James McAvoy starts turning a much darker corner, which sets off a series of events that reveal Irvine Welsh's true intentions behind creating one of the most vile characters imaginable.