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James McAvoy
Jim Broadbent
Jamie Bell
Eddie Marsan
Imogen Poots
Joanne Froggatt.
Jon S. Baird.
Jon S. Baird.
Running Time
97 minutes

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The (really) wrong arm of the law

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Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (McAvoy), a corrupt, cocaine-snorting, hard-drinking Edinburgh cop, is angling for a promotion to detective inspector, and is prepared to secure it by any means necessary. After a messy marriage split, however, his mind might not be as sharp as it was...

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Nearly 20 years on, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting remains the benchmark for crossover British cinema, breaking with the tradition that the UK’s only hit exports were period films involving butlers, women in corsets and furtive encounters between posh men in suede shoes. Loud, dirty and — in its humour — very, very wrong, it saluted everything the Tory government wanted to sweep under the carpet back then. A sequel, Porno, has yet to materialise; instead came a brace of inferior Welsh adaptations, The Acid House and Ecstasy, that both flopped.

The thinking, perhaps, was that Welsh’s time had been and gone, swept away with Blur vs. Oasis, Union Jack dresses and the rest of Tony Blair’s Cool Britannia. But Jon S. Baird’s take on the writer’s third novel, Filth, published in 1998, suggests there’s commercial life in this still fiercely independent writer yet. Its aggressively satirical view of the police does age the material slightly, but the dark energy of Welsh’s wit hasn’t dated much at all, and seeing much of it channelled by a near-unrecognisable James McAvoy may bring him to a whole new audience.

With Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, McAvoy has finally grown into the kind of role he was looking for in his last two movies, Trance and Welcome To The Punch. In neither did he quite seem to have the heft: Trance, especially, required a diametric shift in character that would be almost impossible for any actor. Here, though, he really goes for it, unburdened by the need to be the pretty-boy hero. Nothing about Robertson is likable. He is a bully and a monster; snatching a kid’s balloon and letting it float away is the least of it in a film that sees him demand oral sex from an underage girl and frame his gullible “best friend” for a crime of his own doing.

That Filth works is largely due to the fact that McAvoy is reversing the formula from Trance and Punch: there, we were asked to buy the good guy and take the possibility of the character’s darker moral shading on faith. Here, though, Robertson is so monstrous that the only way to get through it is to hope there is some glimmer of McAvoy’s usual humanity at the end of it, something Baird teases us with throughout. Around him, a great supporting cast has fun stretching the limits of realism: Eddie Marsan’s hilarious Clifford, a dim-witted mug we should feel sorry for but, somehow, don’t; Shirley Henderson as his mousy, secret goer of a wife; and Kate Dickie as Robertson’s bit-on-the-side, who enjoys a bit of “cutting the gas off”.

It’s a hard momentum to maintain, juggling all manner of extremes and digressions, but Baird does corral this berserk carnival into a cohesive narrative. As Robertson’s cool, calm amorality crosses the line into full-blown madness, only the strait-laced Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots) sees what’s really going on, and he knows it, driving the misogynistic, domineering cop crazy. The final reveal brings us full circle, and though the pay-off might be tough for some to swallow, it is certainly in keeping with a film that sets out to be larger than life from the off.

It doesn’t have Trainspotting’s surprise factor, but Filth does have a better handle on shock value than its predecessors, thanks to Baird’s steady hand on the throttle. And where Trainspotting was an ensemble piece, this is McAvoy’s show, with a delirious, demonic performance that will surely see D. I. Robertson join Malcolm McDowell’s Alex DeLarge and Tom Hardy’s Charles Bronson in the pantheon of great British sociopaths.

A bulked-up James McAvoy dominates the screen in this razor-sharp Glasgow smile of a black comedy, packed with aberrant sex, hard drugs and maximum David Soul.

Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Filth
Empire Star Rating

RE: Another failed attempt at recreating Trainspotting

L: Azzurro06 Very funny, obviously its gives you pleasure to come around and rubbish other reviews on this forum. Hope you had a nice time. n the contrary - I'd say the Reviews section easily gives me the least pleasure of anywhere on this forum. I was disagreeing with your assertion that just because you didn't like the film the cast must regret being in it. ... More

Posted by horribleives at 11:44, 16 October 2013 | Report This Post

Does what it says on the filthy, filthy tin.

If you enjoyed the more hallucinogenic aspects of Trainspotting, you'll get a lot out of Filth. Welsh proves once again that you can be flexible with your linear narrative if you throw enough messed up situations at the reader/viewer and a few crowning reveal shots. Given the scope of the project, Filth is nothing short of magnificent. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 01:12, 16 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Another failed attempt at recreating Trainspotting

Very funny, obviously its gives you pleasure to come around and rubbish other reviews on this forum. Hope you had a nice time. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Azzurro06 at 16:01, 15 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Another failed attempt at recreating Trainspotting

L: Azzurro06 Why do directors who take on Irvine Welsh material feel they have to make Trainspotting 2, and then fail so horribly. This was truly painful to watch, but very easy to analyse. It's Trainspotting without the wit, script, visual flair and taste (yes, that's right, taste). Just a compilation of disgusting sketches which nearly made me vomit into my popcorn. How McAvoy, Marsan and Broadbent found themselves in this odious movie is beyond me. But like one of McAvoy's character... More

Posted by horribleives at 12:50, 13 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Intoxicating Fun!!!!

A thoroughly tedious, one-note and mostly unfunny half gives way to a somewhat better second half that does compel, though Ferrera and Kietel did it all much better over two decades ago. MacAvoy's startling performance stands out, but deserves a better film. 4.5/10 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 22:34, 12 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Filth

Since its release seventeen years ago, Danny Boyle’s brilliant adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, there have been other films that attempted at adapting other works by the Scottish novelist. In the case of his 1998 novel Filth which was considered unfilmable, it took over a decade to make it into the big screen as writer/director Jon S. Baird shows the heightened grittiness of Edinburgh as oppose to the city’s upbeat environment in Sunshine On Leith. Following the murder of a youn... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 23:33, 04 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Filth

No... I can't concede it because a- just don't like James McAvoy as an actor and b- at just over a quarter into the film and am still bored it gives me every right to have an opinion. ... More

Posted by J_BUltimatum at 21:41, 03 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Not impressed

No. A press screening, and yeah. I didn't like it so gives me ample qualification to rate this movie as pish. :) ... More

Posted by J_BUltimatum at 21:35, 03 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Filth

Piece of pish. I'm really not much of a fan of Welsh and his one note writing; his approach worked for a group of heroin addicts, but the constant banging of the same drum over his following novels, short stories & television dramas became increasingly tiresome with each effort. otting olutionary in dismantling Scottish discourse, yet in /i](especially in this adaptation) his observations have disintegrated into lazy stereotypes. His obsession with portraying the outrageous have also led to a h... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 07:51, 03 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Filth

It's quite different from the book in some respects, though I don't think they could do anything about that, as there are elements in the book that wouldn't work in a film. Never the less, it's a great film, excellent performance from McAvoy. ... More

Posted by JCR at 04:06, 03 October 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Not impressed

L: J_BUltimatum Had the "pleasure" of seeing this about a month a go... I only lasted 30 minutes before I walked out bored and unimpressed. The directing is bad and James McAvoy just doesn't do anything that brings you into the film wanting to watch more. I can see why Empire gave this 4 stars (it is a British film). The book is great. The film, however, is filth that deserves to be flushed down the pan. honestly can't remember the last time I saw a post from you that was impressed ... More

Posted by waltham1979 at 13:13, 30 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Not impressed

A month ago? Private screening for you was it? Lasted 30 min? And that qualifies you to make a judgement on a movie? ... More

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Posted by chump5874 at 07:01, 30 September 2013 | Report This Post

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