With any film that’s based on something by Irvine Welsh, the expectations are inevitably for it to live up to the standard of Trainspotting, and with a cast consisting of the likes of James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Marsan, even more so. While the Danny Boyle film may have set the bar too high when it comes to Irvine Welsh adaptations, Jon S. Baird’s adaptation of Filth is in no way a failure.
James McAvoy plays an alcoholic junkie of a police officer, Bruce Robertson, in the running for a promotion which he hopes will make his wife and daughter come back to him. He thinks he has it in the bag, but he has competition in the form of a female officer, played by Imogen Poots, and his constant hallucinations don’t help either.
The character of Bruce Robertson is extremely unlikable in general, and McAvoy plays that well, but dramatic changes in tone in the film will suddenly demand sympathy for him, quicker than I imagine most audiences will manage. Filth starts out as a sort of gritty comedy, Bruce’s constant drinking, snorting and bigotry all taken rather lightly, which is how it’s been promoted as well, and that’s fine. I think those parts work well in their own right, but then out of the blue come these genuinely touching moments of him crying over someone’s dead husband. Again, I think these work on their own, but the way they’re just thrown in there is all a bit bi-polar. I haven’t read the novel, but I can imagine tonal shifts working well with Welsh’s writing, but I think bringing the story to the big screen could have used a slightly more serious approach, because there is a great story here, and dealt with properly, the character of Bruce could be very interesting.
I think my main issue with the film was my expectation of what it would be, which is terrible criticism, but had I known it would be more than just dark comedy, I could have prepared myself for it. I used to be very good at getting to know the original source material before going to see an adaptation, and maybe this is a reminder that I need to get back to doing that. It’s definitely worth seeing, and McAvoy’s performance is pretty good. There’s even a twist most people are unlikely to see coming. Go into Filth expecting something more than the trailer and posters suggest, and I think you’ll appreciate the film for what it is.
Filth is out in Scotland today, and in the rest of the UK next Friday, October 4th.