Starring: James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), Eddie Marsan (The World’s End), Imogen Poots (Fright Night), Jim Broadbent (Hot Fuzz)
Writer/Director: Jon S. Baird (Cass)
Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes
Release Date: 4 October (UK), N/A (US)
Adapted from the book by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, Filth’s marketing has played the film up as a debauched insane flick (just try watching the film’s “suitable for all ages” trailer; it basically shows nothing). But does this promise add up to anything meaningful, or is it just a bunch of shocking imagery for the sake of attention?
Filth’s premise is most comparable to Bad Lieutenant (both the Ferrara and Herzog versions): the life of the dirty, drug-addled, sex-loving cop. That premise has lot of promising opportunities for some good set pieces or dark humour. Unfortunately, the film is too scatterbrained to follow up on it. The film’s pacing and structure feels like McAvoy’s character himself: unstable and unfocused. The film seems to have a clear goal at the start, but it meanders through several underdeveloped plots before landing to an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. Through hallucinations and dream sequences, the film attempts to foreshadow several major reveals, but does it so much that it becomes more like a hammer to the head; I figured out pretty much all of them about ten minutes before they happened, no matter how bizarre and unthinkable they were. The loose structure of it feels much more suited to the novel format (having never read the book, I can’t confirm that is true). But if it is, it makes me wish they had actually taken some more liberties with it and streamlined the plot into something more cohesive. The humour of the film is lacking: it’s mostly just a lot of cussing, sex references and homophobia; exactly what you’d expect from Scotsmen. It is much more vulgar than your average film, but it doesn’t make it any more funny. There just wasn’t anything to grab onto to keep me interested, which led to a monotonous experience that felt much longer than it actually was.
If there is any saving grace to the movie, it is the cast. McAvoy carries the film with his performance, bringing his usual go-hard-or-go-home attitude to the proceedings with mostly good effect. He’s not playing a likable guy for sure, but he brings so much energy to the performance that he does hold your interest through the duller moments. Eddie Marsan does well playing a shy, bookish type; the antithesis of McAvoy. But he keeps disappearing from the film and his subplot ends up feeling pointless. Bell, Poots, Broadbent: they all similarly deliver the material with gusto and determination, but it never really adds up to anything. There are a bunch of interesting characters with quirky traits that could provide some humour, but it all feels superfluous. For example, the chief inspector is an aspiring screenwriter. What purpose does this serve? Other than a brief gag where he gets interrupted reading Robert McKee, absolutely nothing. It’s odd that almost an entire film’s main cast is utterly pointless in the long run, but it does feel that way. No matter how hard the actors try, the film just has nothing for them to do.
The film promises depravity, and it does deliver on that somewhat. There’s heavy drug use, lots of nudity, some violence; pretty much what you expect. But again, it feels underwhelming. The marketing promises more crazy than the film actually has, and it just feels like it’s all there to compensate for a lack of meaning. The cinematography is gritty and rough, with a particular penchant for blowing out light from windows that gets annoying after a while. The movie gets the chance to go nuttier in several hallucinations, but they all end up looking like a dream sequence from The Big Lebowski or any music video for My Chemical Romance. The film presents a very exaggerated view of Edinburgh: it definitely looks and feels like the place, but as a native I don’t think it is as dangerous as the film depicts. For that, you go to Glasgow. Overall, the presentation again feels all show, no meaning. It’s got a nice soundtrack though.
Filth is by no means a bad film. It does nothing to offend me nor does it feel incompetent or without effort. It just doesn’t really do anything, and that is almost worse. James McAvoy’s genuinely great performance is the only thing worth watching, but other than that there isn’t much more to it.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/10