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Film Review: Filth


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Irvine Welsh smashed his way into the world’s consciousness with the release of 1996 film Trainspotting, the film adaptation of his gritty, black comedy novel. Now the world can recoil in shock and disgust anew with the release of Filth, Jon S. Baird’s harrowing adaptation of Welsh’s dark, incisive “crime” novel.

FilthLest the term ‘crime novel’ mislead readers, let me state that Filth is neither detective fiction nor police procedural, rather a dark comedy based loosely around the activities of the police. The narrative centres around anti-hero Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson of the Leith Police, his disastrous misadventures as police officer and his pursuit of a promotion to Detective Inspector.

Deemed ‘unfilmable’ for years Baird’s magnificent screenplay deconstructs a complex novel cutting down the core factors of the narrative to allow it to breathe on screen. His direction brings the blurred lines between reality and fractured fantasy alive.

Filth serves up the heady cocktail of sex, drugs and violence we have come to expect from a brainchild of Welsh, following Robertson’s nigh-on Shakespearean descent into madness, treachery and cruelty. Wisely cracking jokes where they’re due, the film laughs at Robertson’s bigotry without dehumanizing him.

It is a series of stunning performances, especially from James McAvoy (in the best performance of his career) as Robertson that makes Filth stand out. Through bouts of extreme sexual deviance (and abuse), violence, sexism and racism at the end it is hard not empathise with the detective as he unravels,

There is perhaps a touch of inconsistency in tone throughout the picture as Baird tries to depict a balance of humour, horror and heartbreak.

However, the slight disconnect between the poles of tragedy and absurdity can be forgiven considering the complexity of the subject matter. Scathing and sardonic, mercilessly describing the violence it presents, it is produced with the same inventive touches that made the names of directors such as Jean-Pierre Jeunet and David Lynch.

Occasionally veering into indulgent self-reference, Filth largely avoids the pitfalls of its genre and is worth seeing for the end credits alone – a cartoon sequence involving a pig snorting something white off the ground.

For those with the stomach for it, Filth is an all-too-rare, genuinely stirring treat.

Filth is in cinemas in Scotland on 27th September and nationwide on 4th October.

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