“Oh boy. We’re really in ‘it’ now,” I thought as I watched Jon S. Baird’s crackpot dark comedy about decrepit Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson fighting for a promotion and doing anything he can to guarantee the position. If he has to backstab, manipulate, and cause scenes, he’ll gleefully do so.
Baird, who wrote and adapted the screenplay from Irvine Welsh’s book of the same name, is just as game as Robertson when facing immoralities head-on. The twisted attitude in the indulgent filmmaking is the right one. You can’t knock Baird for pussyfooting around the depravity.
The big screen adaptation of Filth’s Bruce Robertson reminded me of Bad Words’ Guy Trilby with both instigators having hidden agendas that benefit themselves. With the film’s Christmas time backdrop, it’s also appropriate to draw comparisons to Bad Santa’s “bah humbug” grouchiness.
However, Bad Santa and Bad Words have convincing motivations. Motives that are crooked, but help explain why the character behaves in these ways. Robertson does these terrible things not because of his selfishness, but because he can.
That’s ultimately why it took me a long while to gel with Jon S. Baird’s Filth. The film’s lead character is too reprehensible to ride on such thin development. I eventually warmed up to its sense of inky humour forty minutes into the movie, but that’s long in the tooth to wait for audience acceptance.
Baird does more explaining towards the end of Filth that backs up the malice with sadness, but it feels like a wobbling tower of character development hastily being shoved towards us. This may read better in Welsh’s original work over a number of pages, but it feels too rushed on the big screen.
Once I caught up to Baird’s radical flick, I actually found myself laughing hard at Robertson’s manic pranks. A photocopying party game and a trip away with nevish pal Clifford Blades are hilarious and open doors to Baird’s wild movie.
James McAvoy is balls-out brilliant as Robertson and shows the actor in a sublimely fearless showcase. His character may be too alarmingly ugly and the manipulating may become a bit much, but he sinks himself into that diabolical mindset without second guessing.
Eddie Marsen is in a comfortable element playing Blades, which is essentially a meeker version of his character in The World’s End – I didn’t know that was possible. Marsen’s charming and plays a strong straight man during the crazy material. Jim Broadbent is also a joy to watch as he loonily plays a pushy egghead during the more hallucinatory sequences in Robertson’s head.
“Hallucinatory” is a good word to describe Filth, as it feels like a hit of a substance that takes a while to kick into gear if you’re new to it. Once it takes effect, the outcome’s a decent trip through the sick mind of a madman. Until then, there’s a lot of waiting and wondering as to why a film this bitter and mean is supposed to be so funny.