is a lot like the last Irvine Welsh
novel that got a big-screen adaptation, Trainspotting
. The same rules apply; miserable, awful people suffer in Scotland
. Netflix calls it a comedy, and in that regard, Filth
falters; there are funny moments, but Jon S Baird's 2013 film pushes a black comedy into plain dismal pretty hard. Still, it's a damned fine movie no matter the genre.
opens with a mugging gone wrong. A student (Zack Eisaku Niizato
) is beaten to death by a group of thugs (Martin Compston, Iain De Caestecker, Joy McAvoy and Jordan Young
). The only witness is a mysterious blonde, Carol Robertson (Shauna MacDonald
Our protagonist, and the main draw, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy
), is Carol's estranged husband and everything that could be wrong with a cop. He’s a petty, sexist, racist, homophobic, wife-seducing whoremonger with a love for cocaine, alcohol and abuse of power. It's telling that he joined the police because of corruption – he wanted to be a part of it. And he's up for a promotion. He believes the position is the only way he'll get his wife and daughter back, and he will do anything to make it happen.
So Robertson plays “the games.” He lies and manipulates the people around him to make them vulnerable, he takes the lead in the murder investigation to get brownie points while exploiting his colleagues' insecurities and secrets to turn them against one another. And when he's not gunning for the promotion, he's only interested in scoring cheap sex and drugs.
If Robertson were as clever as he thinks he is, he'd be a shoe-in for the promotion. But he's not okay – suffering from bipolar disorder and not taking his medicine. Sometimes, when he looks in the mirror he sees a horrific pig's head where his own should be, and his drugged-out sessions with his psychiatrist happen in a white dream-space, with Dr. Rossi (Jim Broadbent
) relaying horrible news like it's the funniest joke.
Robertson loses control of his games as they collapse inward on him, still believing he’s the best cop there is and nobody's help is worth asking for. The last act features Robertson crumbling and hallucinating his way through a slow-motion human train wreck. The final twist is heartbreaking.
McAvoy performs Robertson to a T. Whether he's arrogant and cruel or broken and strung out, McAvoy sells it hard. Imogen Poots
also deserves recognition for her performance as DS Amanda Drummond. She plays off Robertson's mood swings with easy grace as she shifts between revulsion, anger and concerned pity. Jamie Bell
also sells junior DS Ray Lennox well – hedonistic but insecure, and ultimately canny. The entire cast is solid.
While Robertson is a bigot, he's about mid-range for the cast at large – every male character has some degree of homophobic, racist, sexist or religious sectarian tendencies. One can't leave out the anti-Catholic prejudice in Scotland, after all.
This film is hard to watch, though. It's a heavy, graphic movie, but a film called Filth
needs a fair amount of filth to make its point. While Robertson has his humorous moments, he's a broken man hitting bottom, and not in a sexy, Fight Club
kind of way. It's more painful than it is satisfying when the karmic boots come a-kicking.
While it lacks the bright moments and happy ending of Trainspotting
– and the irony of that statement is hard to miss – Filth
is a great picture of the dirtiest cop in Scotland. And the soundtrack, a mix of sleazy rock and christmas tunes, adds style and punch. Clint Mansell
and Coco Sumners
' cover of Creep
makes the finale cut even deeper, with a little of Thom Yorke's
whine buffed off. Plus, the acting is fantastic. Filth
is not for the faint of heart, but it is a solid character drama and worth your while.
Congratulations, you're one movie closer to justifying that $8.99 a month.