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Thursday 14 December 2017

Film review - Paul Whittington: Filth

Bad apple is truly rotten to the core

James McAvoy: left high and dry in Filth
James McAvoy: left high and dry in Filth

Paul Whitington

This lurid Scottish drama written and directed by Jon S Baird and adapted from an Irvine Welsh novel had a tricky production history and now seems to be being pitched by its producers as a latter-day Clockwork Orange.

And while I'm no particular fan of that overblown Stanley Kubrick production, it's Battleship Potemkin compared to this sorry mess. James McAvoy runs the show, playing Filth's coke-addled, protagonist, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson.

Bruce drinks and smokes and snorts his way around Edinburgh and hates black people, Asians and Catholics with a passion. He's obsessed with landing promotion to inspector, but decides to leave nothing to chance. Bruce is nasty as they come, and even stoops to using a harmless accountant (Eddie Marsan) as his unwitting agent of chaos. A strong cast includes Shirley Henderson as the accountant's vampish wife, Jamie Bell as Bruce's principal promotion rival, and Imogen Poots as a prissy colleague, but none of these fine actors are given actual characters to work with.

I haven't read Mr Irvine's original novel, which may or may not be as badly written and chaotically plotted as Mr Baird's film. But Filth the movie takes a psychology for dummies approach to character development, and blunders its way towards a bald explanation of Robertson's motivation that an averagely attentive cat will have seen coming a mile off. It's a loud, brash and clumsy film, and also a very bad one, full of dialogue but very short on drama.

McAvoy is a very interesting actor, and in recent years has moved impressively between comedy, action films and serious dramas. But he is left high and dry in Filth: his performance begins at such a heightened and semi-hysterical pitch that it has nowhere to go but through the roof. Only Eddie Marsan keeps his feet on the ground playing an over-trusting everyman.

Director: Jon S. Baird. Stars: James McAvoy, Imogen Poots, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson. HHII (18, general release, 97 minutes)

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