Filth (2013)

Writer & Director: Jon S. Baird
Cinematographer: Matthew Jensen
Composer: Clint Mansell
Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggatt, Shirley Henderson.

Detective Bruce Robertson is a terrible human being and an even worse police officer. The Scottish detective lies, steals, takes drugs, tortures, bullies, threatens, manipulates, takes advantage, harasses, fornicates, is sexually abusive and criminal, he’s homophobic, racist, and sexist, and sees nothing wrong with any of it. He also suffers from delusions and visions, usually in the form of a terrifying and hallucinogenic doctor appearing to him. He is up for a promotion but has competition. He also is investigating the murder of a Japanese student. His family is estranged, and he’s trying to get them back. How does he manage it all? Well, that answer is quite simple: he doesn’t.

Whenever a film, or television show for that matter, decides to make someone reprehensible the star and main attraction it’s a tricky game. A way to do it right is to make the lead extremely charismatic and likable in spite of the atrocities committed – great examples of this are House of Cards, Dexter, or even The Silence of the Lambs. As viewers we really can’t help but root for the psychopath, even if it goes against our morals and principles. What does not work, for me at least, is to glorify and attempt to make us root for someone despicable with no seemingly redeemable qualities. There is one scene in the film which is manipulative and meant as the scene in which we are supposed to care and feel for Robertson, but it’s so over the top, incongruous, and bizarrely staged, that it just doesn’t work. The end result is a film where the hero cheats on his wife, commits statutory rape, destroys people’s lives, says some of the most vile things possible, and doesn’t even do his job with even the slightest bit of dedication or integrity. How could he?

I found myself utterly disgusted with the film and unable to find something to enjoy about it. The film, filmmakers, and cast seemed to take too much glee in performing all the disgusting actions and reciting the repulsive lines, and that in and of itself was hard to watch. Trainspotting, another film adapted by a novel by author Irvine Welsh, dealt with heavy issues and antiheroes, but was handled really well by John Hodge’s script, Danny Boyle’s directing, and a strong and likable cast. Filth is just that, downright filthy. James McAvoy (Atonement), as the main character, wasn’t able to make Robertson compelling in the least. Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey) is once again casted in the thankless role of the madonna, an angel of light in an otherwise dark and purifying world. The only member of the cast that shines is Shirley Henderson (who was also in Trainspotting), who gets to play with the type of role she usually gets and turn it on its head, she’s always someone I enjoy watching, in spite of the fact that she’s not a household name she is always a reliable character actor who knows how to deliver a great performance.

Jon S. Baird’s script and direction are altogether extremely weak, and he mistakes visual flashiness with a point of view or with style. He shows that he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Skip this movie and rewatch Trainspotting. This film is trash and, yes, filth.


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