Hands down, ‘Trainspotting’ is one of the finest films in the history of, well, films. Too gritty to win an Academy Award (although it was nominated for one), but that didn’t stop it winning a BAFTA, and about 65 Scottish BAFTAs (not really surprising). Now, Scottish Director Jon S Baird has tackled another Irvine Welsh Novel – Filth – with a lead performance from James McAvoy that is no less than career defining. Baird is brave, he is very green when inevitably compared to Danny Boyle, who was on his tenth directorial credit but the time he bought Trainspotting into our lives – Baird is only on his fourth. This is a truly valiant effort nonetheless, but one which could have been made even better if he’d gone all the way, so to speak.
James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robinson, an Edinburgh copper so f**ked up in so many ways that he appears to drift through the film fading both literally and metaphorically in and out of consciousness. Fuelled by a pretty serious drug problem and inexplicable volumes of single malt whisky, he romps his way through life with so much drive to achieve that golden promotion at work that he forgets that his own back story needs some maintaining. Blackmailed fellatio, backstabbing, cocaine, violence, more cocaine, whisky, vomit, even more cocaine and adultery – there’s not much he won’t do to get what he wants, or at least what he thinks he wants. Tasked with solving the murder of a young Japanese student, Bruce pushes himself and those who surround him to the limits, both literally and emotionally.
It’s when we delve into the realms of why Bruce is the way he is that we start to understand the psychiatric mess he’s got himself into. In a recent interview in GQ magazine, McAvoy summed up Bruce’s character perfectly: ….”he is afraid of black people, he is afraid of Japanese people, he is afraid of women, he is afraid of men – he is afraid of men – he is afraid because he is probably gay. He is afraid of the colour of the carpets he is afraid of animals – he is afraid of being an animal – that is why he starts to see animals everywhere. That is what drives him insane, his fears – because his features, unlike you and I hopefully, his fears take control of him”.
We mustn’t however credit Bruce with too much sympathy. His casual racism will make you wince throughout the entire film, and his complete disregard for other people’s feelings – including his ‘best friend’ Clifford Blades’ – is abhorrent. But it’s the tension between the two opposing forces, the two different gazes we find ourselves applying to him throughout the film that makes Filth so interesting.
It’s about three quarters of the way through the film that Bruce finally mutters ‘I’m not well’ – eyes bloodshot and sunken into his skull like two anaemic shrivelled raisins, blood surging with class A narcotics and alcohol. By this point, you’ll be so burned by his antics you may find it hard to ascertain where your loyalties lie, but you’ll certainly enjoy the journey trying to work it out, even if you do end up giving up.
Eddie Marsden plays an excellent side kick to our twisted copper, playing his ‘best friend’ Clifford Blades. The problem is he’s overly caricatured – unsuspecting, overly trusting, and milk-bottle specs wearing, he is completely hung out to dry by Bruce. What’s missing is any nudge towards an aftermath – true, Bruce is living his life with zero regard for consequence, but it feels more like a plot hole here, something which the rest of the film unfortunately suffers equally from. Similarly patchy are the dream-like episodes in which Jim Broadbent plays what Bruce is imagining to be his psychiatrist – a clear nod to Alex’s psychiatrist in A Clockwork Orange, but far too funny to be taken seriously. Flaws like this prevent the film from properly winding its way into your psyche and allowing you to peer into the kind of world Bruce is living (and suffering) in – a real shame given the other clear achievements we have in Filth.
All credit to Baird for tackling such hardcore source material, and top notch casting work; however, the fact that it’s Danny Boyle who is bringing us the next Irvine Welsh adaption does speak volumes.
3 out of 5.
Kind of filthy, but should have been a lot more filthy. Definitely worth seeing purely for McAvoy’s thundering performance.