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British Film Review: Filth
An important caveat to point out - I've not read the book Filth. So, this review is of the film as a stand alone text. Irvine Welsh is the author of Filth. It's the third of his books to be made into a film. Jon S Baird (Cass, Green Street) has adapted Filth for the big screen - to be honest he's the writer, producer and director of the movie too.
Filth is the lurid story of bipolar Detective Sergeant (DS) Bruce Robertson’s (James McAvoy) battle with his inner demons, love for his wife, vices and police rivals vying for promotion to the vacant Detective Inspector. He's a bully too - a chip off The Sweeney school of policing. You know the kind of police archetype - hit first, ask questions later; women are for leisure; and gays just don't belong in the police force.
The film opens with Robertson telling us why he's odds on favourite for the promotion. Running parallel to this is his wife steps out for the evening. She witnesses, and, for reasons that are explained much later, stops the violent attack of a Japanese tourist by a gang of thugs - led by Gorman (Martin Compton). The foreign tourist dies and so must the Scottish Tourist Board’s last hopes that Irvine Welsh might promote its capital as a place that welcomes visitors from around the world with open arms - see also Trainspotting's mugging scene of an unsuspecting American tourist in a pub toilet.
Police boss Bob Toal (John Sessions) makes Robertson the Acting Detective Inspector to lead the murder investigation and reinforce the assumption that promotion is his, bar the shouting. Robertson is cocky in his dealings with those around him as he plays the other candidates off one another by exploiting their flaws - as he sees them.
The young gun DS Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) is inexperienced, lacks the self-confidence to be himself and tries so hard to emulate Robertson. Keen but stupid, and old in the tooth, DS Gus Bain (Gary Lewis) will believe anything Robertson tells him. The non-PC 70’s throwback DS Dougie Gillman (Brian McCardle) is right of BNP so is just an ape in police clothing. DS Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots) is a woman - no chance of promotion. Equally, DS Peter Inglis (Emun Elliot) is a metrosexual - gay basically in Robertson's eyes - again no chance.
In the first act or so, these cartoonish characters dance to whatever tune Robertson plays. You could argue they are too much caricature and not enough archetype, but if you believe they are constructs in Robertson's mind, then what you are seeing are representations of his own flaws and insecurities.
Finally, there is the Freemason's Lodge. He revels in being a player who believes it's the winning that counts, not the taking part. Here we meet the final piece of the messy jigsaw Bladesy (Eddie Marsan) - a well to do accountant who Robertson bullies and fleeces at every opportunity.
Everything is going well until he goes to resuscitate a dying man in the street. The wife, Mary (Joanne Froggatt) and her son watch on helpless as Robertson valiantly attempts CPR. The process reawakens dark, suppressed memories from his childhood. This introduces us to Robertson the vulnerable - a surprise addition to his range of emotions given the bleak start.
The film then begins a giddy flip flop between reality and unreality through the eyes of our troubled man as we descend into his madness. Aussie Psychiatrist, Dr. Rossi (Jim Broadbent) features heavily in many of these episodes to very good comedic and disturbing effect. The mania of Broadbent's performance is a mirror of McAvoy's concern and confusion.
Filth is a brutal ride that batters your sensibilities with crude, unsympathetic people and experiences, and then takes your senses on a whistle stop tour of guilt, repression and mental illness. Ably supported by the visceral Clint Mansell (Requiem For A Dream) score. Not surprisingly it will seem relentless as Baird rarely lets the film rest. Hang on best you can, because the rewards in the climax and resolution pay off on all that confusion you might be feeling.
It's not as slick as Danny Boyle's/John Hodge's adaptation of Trainspotting (1996), but don't let that put you off. It's still a very witty and sometime vulgar picture postcard from Edinburgh's darkside.
Filth is released on DVD 10th February 2014
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