Overview: A maniacal, reckless, depraved, guilt-ridden, corrupt cop attempts to earn a promotion through solving a horrifying case. Steel Mill Pictures, Logie Pictures, Altitude Film Entertainment; 2014; Rated R; 97 Minutes.
Familiar Tones: Trailers and posters for Filth are eager to point out that its source material, the novel of the same name, was written by Irvine Welsh who also penned the novel from which Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was adapted. Normally, I am baffled by the advertised presentation of these connections. By the logic of this perspective, Maximum Overdrive deserves the attention of all of the world’s Shawshank Redemption fans. However, in this case, the connective evidence is admissible. Not only does the storyline of Filth mimic the unstable narrative path traveled by Trainspotting, but Director Jon S. Baird adopts an emulative film style, exercising over-overediting, surrendering his camera to a whirlwind of frenetic energy, establishing himself as a clear nihilistic descendent of Danny Boyle. As is the case in Trainspotting, here, the frames hold close and give chase. A significant portion of the film’s first half holds to bust-level close-ins and facial close-ups. The music is hyper-synthesized and the story takes off from the station at speeds so breakneck that the wheels, the walls, the entire train shakes with instability. Baird is assured in his craft and he accomplishes his goals. Here, it seems, his goal is to do everything he can to discomfort his audience. When a film like this is successful in its ambition, it doesn’t always translate to an enjoyable experience. The motion sickness and morality headache is made slightly more tolerable by Eddie Marsan who, as Bruce Robertson’s best friend Bladesey, provides a perfect understated fence post planted against the kinetic tornado to allow audience orientation.
The Filth: With a title like Filth, the film better bring the dirty, right? What’s the most taboo thing you can imagine yourself doing? Drugs? Infidelity with your best friend’s wife? Underage sex? Photocopying peeners and displaying them for the women in your office? C’mon, those options are so weak that this movie moves through them without blushing or flinching. Auto-erotic asphyxiation? Oh, that’s here in spades. This film displays a ruinous behavior set, a sense of morality laid to waste by perverted compulsion. Filth is as sick as the title would suggest, but not in a race for edginess or pursuit of shock value. This film is sick because it’s about a sick man.
McAvoy: I can never decide if I think that the maniacal or insane movie roles are easier or more difficult than roles that require normal human behavior (I guess finding my stance on this internal debate would help me decide if Jack Nicholson is the most overrated actor ever or simply the best actor ever). In either case, James McAvoy, as Bruce, marries himself to the lunatic requirements in the first two acts. His commitment is commendable. However, what sets his performance apart is the way that he slows the energy into the final act, bringing the character study to a heartfelt, gut-wrenching conclusion. McAvoy provides the rarest film illustration of insanity and depravity, moving from humorously unhinged, to dreadfully spiraling, and finally to sympathetically human.