Movie Review: James McAvoy in Filth

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Ever since Trainspotting, I’ve thought the bar on insanity in film could never be raised. Then I saw Filth, a Scottish flick taken from the very same mind that wrote Trainspotting the novel, the mad Irvine Welsh (this one’s originally a novel as well). Directed and written by Jon S. Baird and starring James McAvoy (about as far from Prof X as you can get), Filth is a truly mindboggling, truly great depiction of one detective’s descent into utter insanity. Although it doesn’t have the baby scene like in its cinematic predecessor, it follows the rabbit hole even deeper than previously thought possible.

James McAvoy in Filth

The story, narrated by McAvoy’s anti-hero, detective Bruce Robertson, and his wife (whose whereabouts throughout the film are a mystery until the very end), follows the aforementioned Robertson as he plays every human around him in the hopes of winning the position of Detective Inspector. After a Japanese tourist is murdered in Edinburgh (a bloody way to start any movie), Robertson finally gets his chance to show how well he plays what he calls games (like real life, except he treats it and everyone within it like human garbage). As Robertson gets closer to the murderers, his life continues to fall apart bit by bit until he’s a sniveling wreck, every person near him alienated as a result of his brutal demeanor. I won’t reveal too much of the story, but the performances, production, and everything else comes together in a wickedly mesmerizing film.

McAvoy, of course, is given the responsibility of carrying most of the flick, and he does so with sickening charm and disgusting elegance. It’s a wild, highly believable performance of a man addled by everything and anything. Even his laugh (most of the time inspired by cocaine or the sheer pleasure of police brutality) sends shivers down the viewer’s spine. Of course, the dark comedy comes from how horrid Bruce is to his peers and strangers, and especially to himself. He treats himself like what he soon becomes: filth. At no point do you side with McAvoy’s portrayal, but you’re captivated by what he might do next (it’s always something worse).

James McAvoy in Filth

The rest of the cast is pretty stellar as well, all able to act as some kind of foil to McAvoy’s drugged up, deeply pained detective. Eddie Marsan is particularly tragic and enjoyable as Clifford Blades, Bruce’s best friend and target of immeasurable ridicule and shame. His performance is just as captivating as McAvoy’s. Also, Jim Broadbent makes an appearance as Dr. Rossi, Bruce’s psychiatrist who prescribes him higher and higher doses of medicine for a condition that also remains a mystery until most of the way through the film. Most of Broadbent’s performance appears in insane fantasies within Bruce’s mind, but that’s even better; Broadbent shows us true madness.

Like Trainspotting, the film is ultimately far more tragic than comedic. We laugh at how far some characters will go to get a fix or win some sort of professional or social game, but the price paid for any of these little victories is beyond brutal. Robertson struggles with ego, prescription and nonprescription drugs, and incredible loss (his story is nonsensically sad, beyond all the horrid silliness). As much as we enjoy seeing the crazy stuff he does, it definitely becomes uncomfortable, but in that way in which you can’t turn away. Bruce’s levels of filth are astounding, and make the film a beautifully dark adventure into a shattered psyche.

Beyond the incredible performances, lightning-witted writing, and complex (completely mental) narrative, the film has a perfect soundtrack, surprise epic turns, and a weird, postmodern style that makes the final product sublimely nutty. Trainspotting might be a classic drug flick, but Filth has upped the level of what an audience is able to withstand and enjoy. It’s not an easy film, but sometimes not blinking for almost two hours means the film is great.

Filth has already been released in Scotland and other parts of Europe, and will be available for download on iTunes April 24th. Cinemas will start showing the flick May 30th, but I’d make sure not to bring your kids. One of the best films of the past couple years? Maybe, but who cares, it’s ridiculous.

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