It’s almost impossible to talk about Filth without mentioning Trainspotting. Both are set in Edinburgh and based on novels by Irvine Welsh. Both star anti-heroes battling with addiction and trying to prevent their lives from bursting into flames right before them. And both have a very dour Scottish sense of humour which is attracted to the darker corners of the human psyche.
Filth tells the story of Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy). There is a promotion in the department, and Bruce is determined to get it. So determined that he starts to play ‘games’ with his colleagues to play them off against one another and ensure he comes out on top. At the start of the film Bruce comes across like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. Calm, calculating and an expert at reading people’s weaknesses, it seems like the promotion is in the bag.
However, as the film develops it soon becomes clear Bruce is not as together as he makes out. He starts to see visions of people as animals, including of himself as a pig. His drug/alcohol habits seem to be more like addictions; and having seemingly got the latest murder case in the bag, he seems to be losing grip of the main suspects.
Bruce is one of the most interesting characters to come of cinema in recent years. He reminded me of De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver; a character we find it almost impossible to pin down and categorise. Should we hate him? Feel sympathy for him? Be charmed by him? Mostly we do all three at once, a truly wonderful state for a film to keep us in.
Like Trainspotting, Filth is a film which knows how to change gears quickly. One minute we are laughing alone with Bruce, the next we are horrified at what he is becoming. The darkness and depravity the film displays may be too much for some; many have suggested watching Sunshine On Leith after as part of the cleansing process. Certainly, the “Edinburgh” of this film is no less exaggerated than that of the all-singing, all-dancing musical.
There-in lies the main problem with the film which is that the exaggeration of its world and characters mean one could have difficulty connecting with the more emotional moments in the film. Little about Bruce is real, his supporting cast are caricatures, and we are left desperate for a glimpse of light amidst all the bleakness.
Thankfully there are moments within the film which show the better side of humanity, and it is unto these moments we must hang to come out of the film with any kind of favourable view of our own nature.
Filth, then is not for the faint-hearted, but it is also completely committed to its cause. A truly memorable film, not without its flaws, but also easy enough to be charmed by. If Sunshine on Leith is a summer afternoon, this is a cold, wet winter’s night of a film. Be sure to have a dram ready to warm yourself up after!