Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh and a cop you wouldn’t like to meet in practically any circumstances. At work he spends his time indulging in drugs, alcohol, sexually abusive relationships, and “the games” — his euphemism for the myriad foul plots he hatches to humiliate his workmates. While not at work Robertson delights in bullying and systematically taking advantage of his mild-mannered, naive friend Clifford Blades (Eddie Marsan), a member of Robertson’s masonic lodge. It seems that sadistic police officer simply cannot live without a victim around. Still Robertson’s main goal in life is not torture but glory – he wants to gain promotion to Detective Inspector. At first it seems his chances are good. Robertson is being assigned to oversee a murder investigation of a Japanese student who was beaten to death by a band of nationalistic thugs. After a while it seems our hero knows more about that incident than he lets on so his prospects of finding the culprits seem higher than average.
Working the case, however, Robertson slowly loses his grip on reality. He starts suffering from a series of severe hallucinations, worsened by cocaine and alcohol among other things. As the film gets closer to the end Robertson descends into a state of fully-fledged insanity, seeing people around him, and himself, as monsters with animal heads. It is ultimately revealed through dream-like exchanges with his psychiatrist (Jim Broadbent) that he is on medication for bipolar disorder, and wracked with guilt over a tragic accident which led to the death of his younger brother at some point in his childhood. It also becomes clear that his wife had left him for another man some time prior to the film’s events and is denying him access to his only daughter. The divorce sparked Robertson’s desperate bid for promotion (‘women love power, right? She will return to me when I am more powerful’) and also led him to start dressing in his wife’s clothes when off duty in order to ‘keep her close to him’. Will he manage to snatch the promotion? Will he survive long enough to enjoy it?
Have you watched the 1996 film version of Irvine Welch’s novel “Trainspotting”? Have you enjoyed it? If you answer ‘yes’ two times in a row you’ll be more than delighted with ‘Filth’ as it is roughly about the same problems: drugs, alcoholism, sex addiction, power addiction, emptiness of life and the irony of it all. I grant you, the characters are older, more tortured and/or experienced but the main topics remain the same. So “Trainspotting revisited”? Nah, there is more.
The movie’s opening credits, for example, play over a retro-lounge rendition of “Winter Wonderland.” There’s a low-angle shot of what appears to be an extremely long stretch of dressing room floor, black and white chessboard tile, and at the end of the line, a beautiful blond woman in black lingerie is putting on lipstick, while talking about how she is going to seduce her man. It’s all very film noir but then we are shown ugly Robertson pulling his immoral, cruel stunts (like masturbating during a prank call he is tormenting his best friend’s wife with) and all the beauty of the first scene’s amazing atmosphere evaporates quickly.
After a while the viewer is ostensibly plunged into the character’s tortured psyche and here, I admit, the small amount of ‘fun’ I was able to spot in the first part disappeared completely. There was nothing really revealing in Robertson’s ravings, just one pastiche after another. Despite a great soundtrack, including real pearls of classical music but also “99 Luftballoons,” near the end I lost my patience with the Robertson character. I don’t like stupid madmen and “Filth” attempted to depict genuine madness, always a risky move in a comedy (because yes, it is called a crime-comedy-drama this one). In the second part it became clear that Robertson was supposed to be a Genuinely Broken Man. One who Used To Be Good. Or at least Had Potential but then was HURT. Sorry, but after so many truly ugly scenes with his full participation, involving among other things a statutory rape, torturing an unwilling witness, drugging a friend in a bawdy house and humiliating a ‘metrosexual’ coworker, my sympathy was extremely limited. Also McAvoy’s nudge-nudge wink-wink performance had a tired quality after some time but perhaps it was deliberate after all.
“Filth” wasn’t a bad movie but it was overloaded with nastiness and sex scenes which got boring very fast. It ended with a tragedy but I can’t imagine anybody crying in the cinema because of it. It demonstrates, I suppose, that contemporary filmmakers would do well to find new ways of getting their hands dirty. On the plus side, a viewing of the movie might temporarily cure just about anyone’s nostalgia for the mud. Or filth – which also might mean rotten, corrupted cops.