Filth is a black comedy and a lot of fun. It’s also a character study of a broken man, who spirals into a hell of his own making. To enjoy this flick, you have to get past the rampant unpleasantness of almost every character, especially our protagonist and narrator, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy). If you’re looking for a police procedural drama, you might be disappointed; the underlying murder investigation in the plot takes a back-seat to Bruce’s extracurricular depravities or ‘the games’.
The murder of a Japanese student results in a murder investigation, under a degree of political attention. Bruce is assigned to head up the case, which he promptly ignores in favour of all manner of corruption. He fucks, drinks, snorts, tricks, lies and assaults his days away for career advancement, or entertainment. The majority of his triumphs involves subtly destroying those around him, friends and professional rivals equally. Occasionally, he’ll intimidate a suspect or witness, but more often than not, the aim of the games are for their own sake. The prime suspects are barely mentioned in the film, and you’d be forgiven for forgetting their role in the plot all together. The joy of corruption and the descent into depravity is the main thrust of the film, and the audience is dragged along for the ride. Despite the comedic aspects of the film, there are underlying serious elements to the plot. These are not initially obvious, and are slowly revealed throughout the course of the film.
Both the casting and the acting is great. With a protagonist this despicable, it’d be easy to lapse into a cartoonish depiction of a coke head, but instead McAvoy dances the lines between ludicrous and believable. It easily obliterated the memory of his plucky, clean-cut heroes of Starter for Ten or X-men: First Class. The supporting cast are mostly excellent, especially Jamie Bell, who plays Bruce’s protégé as they harass suspects and competitively snort cocaine. One notable exception is a criminal gang, who are about as intimidating as the models from a Gap jeans photo-shoot. And they all have the same doofy faux-hawk haircut, so I kept expecting the Warriors or the Baseball Furies to show up and brawl with them. The dialogue, much of which is identical to the book, works very well on the screen – it’s rapidly delivered and heavy on the slang (‘Stoat the Baw’ alludes to statutory rape, ‘Beast’ is a Rapist). I’m a definite fan of the book, and some of the overblown dialogue fits the film’s comical tone perfectly. They’ve actually cut down the casual racism significantly, which dilutes some of the novel’s undertones.
The negative aspects of the film are probably based more on the original material than anything else. The plot, made of numerous subplots, pile on top of each other. This plurality of subplots instills a lack of urgency to the overall work, because the central motivation is so deeply buried by eight different side-missions. The film was also made relatively cheaply, which is only occasionally obvious. The film-makers have clearly stretched their budget impressively. Did I mention the thugs aren’t remotely threatening? This is a good black comedy, and a worthy adaptation of the novel. The delightfully nihilistic spirit of the original is transferred faithfully.
*One final complaint, though; where the fuck was the tapeworm?! I love the tapeworm. Hopefully “Filth 2; Revenge of the Tapeworm” will be coming 2014.