Occasionally you come across a film that changes your life. It is always unexpected; an emotion that hits you in the pit of your stomach and takes over your soul. It could be that the film is masterfully made, it could be the intimate and amazing performances at the core of it, it could be the story that beats a drum that echoes within you. For the case of Filth, it was all three. The film by Jon S. Baird, who returns to screens today with Stan & Ollie, is an outrageous “comedy” with the blackest soul. So to celebrate more of Baird, we’re looking at his unforgettable movie and just how amazing it is.
Based on a story by Irvine Welsh, the famed author of Trainspotting, Filth centres around Bruce Robertson, a crooked DS who is up for a promotion at work. The only way he believes he can succeed is by playing crude games and pitting his colleagues against one another. Believing vehemently that he is above everyone else, he is also a sex addicted, drug addled bastard who bends the law to his every whim and makes the movie a crazed ultra-violent fest of debauchery. The closer he gets to promotion, the more the walls of his mentality begins to unravel…
James McAvoy is one of our greatest performers. His work since cementing his name in Shameless has gone on leaps and bounds. But to see him at his utmost best – a ground-breaking, career defying performance – you have to watch Filth. Sadly only scooping up awards for Best Actor from Empire and the Moet British Independent Spirits, McAvoy’s turn as bi-polar cop Bruce Robertson was nothing short of outstanding. The performance is so visceral; twisting through the dark corridors of a psyche on the edge of destruction. Delving into the depths of depravity, McAvoy is intense and compelling. His impeccable skill does not leave the film bereft of soul. Not only this, but he knows the character (created in a brilliant book by Irvine Welsh), asking you to understand how a broken, archaic mentality can waver into debauchery and become this beast. It is one of, if not the best performances of 2013, and McAvoy levels the insanity with this emotional anguish that is impossible to rival. It is, to put it bluntly, magnificent.
The affect of the character reverberates with this poignant energy – the depths of his mentality and how it left him cold, brash and violent. Whilst you cannot comprehend it, you can understand it – that mind trapped by the destructive whispering and Bruce doing whatever it takes to not let people see. Which doesn’t work, in fact, it makes him worse and as he destroys himself. Inexcusable acts boils in his subconsciousness. Bruce Robertson’s ultimate message is not excusing his behaviour, but allowing you to empathise with it. You do not exactly have to suffer from any medical mental illness to be hit by the full weight of the message, mind. But for someone who has been in similar situations, it’s an evocative and well-written piece with the most astute performance about a character with a murky brain.
Irvine Welsh has said previously he loves the adaptation of his book, perhaps more so than the novel. That’s not a surprising statement, director Jon S. Baird crafts an indelible film that delves deep into this subversive character study. Flashing between vibrant and colourful fantasies concocted in Bruce’s mind to the grim reality that he romps through daily. Coursing the unravelling through this churlish yet profoundly watchable dickhead of a character, Baird develops a unique grey/blue visual style and a fondness for fourth wall-breaking moments balances these black comedy elements so fantastically well, it’s impossible not to be gripped by it.
The mesmeric performance, the stunning story and direction, plus a soundtrack that hits every beat correctly, Filth is a film you all need to see. It’s a film so remarkably done that it’s a shame it is barely recognised for its themes. Steeped in visceral undertones that gradually boil over, it relies on the craziness of the first half and Bruce’s fucking mental world, and unravels the hilarious safety net so the finale hits you. The full impact leaves a lasting impression.
Someone online quantified this film the best way, so I’ll end it on this note:
“If you like films with dickheads who have sad backstories, then this is the film for you!”
Stan & Ollie is out now!
Find Filth at your earliest convenience.