Admittedly I haven’t read the Irvine Welsh book this film is based on therefore I approached it with a fresh perspective and little sense of expectation either way. Matters were muddled beforehand however when director, star and writer- Jon Baird, James McAvoy and Welsh respectively- warned that the first five minutes may be hard to take and it was best to just follow the flow and go with it.
What they didn’t warn however was how haphazard the camera work, narrative and acting would be. This combined with a downpour of expletives, profanities, sex scenes and violence which verged on torrential made not only the first five minutes but at least the first twenty seem like an X- rated series of Benny Hill sketches delivered in the usual depiction of Scottish accents as either thick or psychotic-often both- before I found myself being absorbed into the frantic dark humour and able to make some sense and garner some enjoyment from it.
I apparently was not alone in this belief as post film discussions all seemed to harbour the same conclusions. What is clear is that when the film turned a corner into a dark alley and a more serious malevolent mood started to prevail it started to become a far more interesting film. Simultaneously the pace also stepped down a gear or two and the slowing down of the action actually allowed the film to gather momentum and actually take flight with the outcome at its conclusion that it is a highly competent, often unsettling, but exhilarating piece of cinema.
The action centres on the bigoted and corrupt police officer Bruce Robertson- a highly effective and driving central performance from McAvoy- who enters a nihilistic downward spiral of drink, drugs, sex and the insistent torment of others after his wife leaves him taking his daughter with her. The aforementioned early section of the film concentrates on this mindset as Robertson manages to antagonise friends, colleagues and lovers in equal measure whilst snorting industrial quantities of cocaine mixed with other intoxicants washed down with copious amounts of alcohol.
After an encounter with a gang of thugs he is pursuing on a racist murder case reveals his inner turmoil and unstable psyche the film switches from cartoon-like dark comedy to disturbing psycho thriller with malevolent intent and an inevitable further downward spiral which can only realistically end badly for the disturbed Robertson.
This is essentially McAvoy’s film and I must admit his performance came as something of a revelation to me. Having seen him earlier this year in the disappointing Danny Boyle Trance I didn’t think he was big enough-not physically though in the flesh he is more diminutive than you could ever imagine if you have only ever seen him on screen- to carry the weight of a major film on his exceptionally small shoulders but I was proved wrong by the stirringly exceptional and convincing performance he gave in this film. He was supported by a stellar supporting cast however and special mentions must go to Jamie Bell, Shirley Henderson and a demonically crazed Jim Broadbent.
‘Filth’ is a film well worth sticking with after its shaky-in so many ways and not just the jerky camera work- start and reveals itself at its dénouement to be a potent work well worth persevering with.