Police officer Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) finds himself in line for promotion within the ranks, but must battle his own demons – accentuated by the impending Christmas season – in order to face down his rivals, and get the post he feels he deserves.
When I interviewed James McAvoy for Trance, earlier this year, I asked him whether he was turning to the darker characters, or this was just what he was being offered. McAvoy said his run of Welcome to the Punch, Trance and Filth were just the films he was being offered at the time, but it does seem that the actor is relishing this change of direction. For years, McAvoy was known as the nice guy on screen, but with Bruce Robertson, he finally gets to go over to the dark side, and it certainly seems that he is enjoying it.
McAvoy goes hell for leather with Robertson. The character is misogynistic, racist, violent and drug addled, but McAvoy manages to play the role in such a manner that when his trauma is revealed, the audience finds a way to empathise with the troubled character. As well as this, Robertson’s character is heightened to such a degree that his manic exploits become entertaining, and it is so clear that he is not a ‘right thinking member of society’ that his drug infused ranting and hate become funny, rather than offensive. It’s a careful balance, but McAvoy manages it.
Although this is definitely McAvoy’s show, the film has a strong supporting cast; Imogen Poots has rather little to do as Amanda Drummond, but she looks good in lingerie, Jim Broadbent carries on his penchant for playing larger than life characters as Dr Rossi, Eddie Marsan plays Bladesey, a mouse of a man who cannot see his ‘best friend’ is abusing him, Jamie Bell is an impressionable young cop who finds himself swept along in Robertson’s wake and Shirley Henderson takes on the role of Bunty, a housewife who is the focus of Robertson’s ire.
Filth being based on an Irvine Welsh novel, it was always going to explore the underbelly of society, and Robertson is the epitome of street angel/house devil. So much focus is given to this character, however, and so much time is spent sending him into more and more ugly situations, that the rest of the film suffers a little. The pacing and structure of the film are rather messy, although after a while, this does begin to feel intentional, as it mirrors the messiness of the central character. The underdeveloped supporting characters can be justified, as this is Robertson’s world, and we are seeing things as he does. The story slips from time to time – yes, there is a motivating story for Robertson, although at times, it is hard to keep hold of – and sometimes it feels as though there is simply too much going on in the film.
Filth is director Jon S. Baird’s most high profile work to date. The director has coaxed fantastic performances from all of his actors – both the central and supporting cast – but his screenplay and choices obviously made during the edit process sometimes leave a little to be desired.
In all, Filth is a messy and erratic look at a man who seems to be holding everything together, but whose life is quickly crumbling. James McAvoy does spectacularly well as the hateable cop; his cheeky winks to camera and the heightened visual style only adding to the film. A little too much attention is paid to Robertson, however, and the supporting cast suffers from pacing that is as unfocused and shattered as the central character. Robertson, however, benefits from a story and pacing as all over the place as he is.