Filth is the fourth film based on a novel by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting) and while the three other films (and the novels, as well as several other novels by Welsh) chronicle the lives of young drug addicts in Scotland this one is a change of a pace as its protagonist is a policeman! But then again, he’s also a drug addict, alcoholic, womanizer, manipulator and generally a really fucked up person, so It’s not that much of a stretch for Welsh, just from the other side of the law.
Filth is also director Jon S. Baird’s second feature film and it’s protagonist, inspector Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is trying to get a promotion and cracking a murder case, while having to deal with all of his demons and manipulating everyone around him. It’s a tough life for Robertson who also has a wife and kid to deal with, but things are not all as they seem to be.
The raw, manic energy of Trainspotting is evident here and it’s pretty clear early on that this story had its origin from the very same mindset as that one. In many ways this is an even ruder and cruder story but that may partly be because of director Baird’s handling of the material (it’s worth noting that this writer has never read the novel Filth) as he seems to be an even flashier director than Danny Boyle.
On the other hand Baird doesn’t seem to have Boyle’s talent, at least not in the same measure. Filth is an energetic, occasionally stylish and overall quite diverting film but it also has an considerable aura of been-there-done-that, offering little that’s very fresh or truly memorable. It’s a fun-filled romp but most of the interesting stuff (probably) comes straight from the novel and the able cast carry a lot of the weight, though that does mean Baird has some idea about how to direct actors.
This is not to say that Filth is a bad film, not at all, and that Baird has no talent, aside from knowing how to work with actors he knows how to move things along briskly and does a lot of fun stuff with the camera. But as a whole Filth doesn’t manage to rise much higher than solid competence.
There’s still a lot to like here, especially the cast. James McAvoy is very good in the lead, managing to make you believe that he’s the kind of guy who can fool (almost) everyone around him with his bullshit and gets the right balance of tone, between crazy and charming. But the standout is the ever brilliant Eddie Marsan as McAvoy’s mate from the freemasons, a total nerd. Marsan completely disappears into his part, as always, and does a lot with his dullard of a character.
Filth is often funny and very lively and flawed as it is, it’s never dull. While the film is set in the modern day it’s largely sprinkled with pop music from the 90’s, by the likes of Darude, Dr. Alban and others which help maintain the feeling of hedonistic pleasure this film is trying to maintain as few things say “let’s party” as much as 90’s dance music.
The Good: The actors. If there’s one thing british people can do it is acting and this film is brimful of great actors, aside from the aforementioned McAvoy and Marsan there’s also Jim Broadbent, Jamie Bell, Martin Compston, Imogen Potts and Shirley Henderson.
The Bad: Subtlety hardly exists in this movie and the humor is often way too broad.
The Weird: The dancing dwarf (or small person), covered in glitter, in the gay sex club fantasy scene.