Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Drug Use, Language and some Violence
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Written by: Jon s. Baird
(based on the novel FILTH by Irvine Welsh)
Starring: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Shirley Henderson, Jim Broadbent, Emun Elliott, Iain De Caestecker & Pollyanma McIntosh
Every once in a great while, I come across a film that I honestly don’t know what to make of upon viewing it. I simply don’t know what hit me. FILTH is a dramatically heavy, comic, and disturbing ride in the life of a mentally unwell Scottish detective. Based on a novel by the controversial author of TRAINSPOTTING (which was also adapted into the acclaimed movie by Danny Boyle), this story doesn’t wholly translate into one specific genre category. Sometimes, it’s a twisted dark comedy that fully embraces the lunacy of its protagonist. Other times, it’s a hard film to watch based purely on the depressing material being presented. FILTH is one that might not garner acclaim from the masses. It’s simply not made for everybody, but there is a definite possibility of it turning into a future cult classic. If one were to mix parts of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE with a cop drama and add a hint of TRAINSPOTTING, then you’d have the sort of idea to what FILTH is!
Bruce Robertson is as manipulative as they come. Sporting the prestigious title of Detective Sergeant in the Scotland police department, Bruce has his eye on the prize. This being a hefty promotion that may (in his mind) drive his estranged wife back to his arms. Of course, to ensure he gets this promotion, Bruce has to get his hands a little dirty. He’s narrowed down the flaws and strengths of every officer in the running. Through a series of under-handed schemes, he begins to exploit their personal problems and turn them against each other. Bruce is also assigned to a high priority murder investigation and on a lesser note, a mission to identify a prank caller harassing his best friend’s wife. Unbeknownst to anybody, Bruce is also steadily flying off the deep end of sanity and becoming more unstable as he goes along.
FILTH is not a date movie. In fact, this is probably the last film you want to watch with your significant other. The main character is unlikable from the onset, but the narrative does a surprisingly well-done job of getting the viewer to sympathize with just how damaged he is from the inside. The other characters, with one exception, are never focused on individually. We see everything through Bruce’s lens, but the other actors and actresses playing the side characters give excellent work in coming off as real people who happen to be in this mentally unhinged man’s life. One heartfelt moment where a co-worker of Bruce’s is showing that she cares about him and McAvoy breaks down emotionally in front of her was touching beyond belief.
Besides McAvoy, Eddie Marsan steals every scene he’s as Clifford Blades, Bruce’s timid best friend. I felt for this guy during the entire time. I’ve known people like Clifford and Marsan gives this pushover a real life on the screen. Jim Broadbent also makes a welcome appearance as Bruce’s doctor, who shows up once in person and multiple times in the increasingly more deranged hallucinations that Bruce suffers. That’s another point that should be brought up. FILTH goes off the deep-end in surreal images throughout. We get supposed narrations from Bruce’s wife, a few day-dreams inside his mind, and some creepy (yet humorous) hallucinations that grow in severity. The story is grounded in the real world. Looking out of the eyes of Bruce, we see just everything he’s thinking and it’s rarely a pretty sight.
Some of the arguable flaws with the film come in the fact that Bruce can be just plain unpleasant to watch. Personally, I developed a love-hate relationship for this character. The idea that you might be able to overlook the filthy exterior of this damaged man and see inside is part of the reason why FILTH will work so well for a certain percentage of the audience. Bruce curses like a sailor, abuses drugs constantly, and is sexually manipulative. It is only in the final moments of the film that we wholly realize just how out of control he is and the impact that his debaucheries have left on the people around him. One reveal near the ending felt a little too familiar in the fact that we’ve seen it in many other movies and books. You’ll know it, when you see it. This plot-point did wind up working in this film’s favor though.
Whether one will take it as a dark comedy of dire circumstances or a tragedy with a sense of humor, FILTH is unique and a great film. It can be downright ugly to watch at points and the character of Bruce might leave many with a bad taste in their mouths. For those willing to stray out of lovable (or hell, even likable) protagonists and venture into truly dark territory, this will satisfy your cravings for something out of the ordinary. Entertaining, bleak, darkly hilarious, and shocking all the way through, FILTH is almost perfect in nearly every way. If one can forgive some familiar plot points and the sheer dirty nature they might feel whilst watching the movie, this comes highly recommended for those looking for a difficult piece of visual fiction!