Filth is what many called the “unfilmable”. Based on the novel of the same title by Irvine Welsh, Filth is the fourth film to be adapted from the author’s works, the most high profile of which being Trainspotting (1996). It stars James McAvoy (Wanted, X-Men: First Class) in what could fairly be considered his defining role as Bruce Robertson, or “Robbo”, a Detective Sergeant of the Edinburgh Polis in Scotland who is one of the most deplorable and, well, filthy people in existence. Despite McAvoy’s potentially deterring prediction that “there will be people that walk out of the cinema”, the movie opened at number one at the Scottish box office. And now you can revel in the filth on home media.
Filth begins with a monologue from Bruce’s wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald), commenting on their marriage and how being “the ultimate tease”, keeps the spice in their marriage. Apparently the two are quite similar, both knowing exactly how to get what they want. Carole then walks a tunnel, witnessing the murder of a Japanese student at the hands of a gang of punks. We’re then introduced to Bruce Robertson, who is literally one of the worst human beings you would hope never to come into contact with. Eyeing a promotion to Detective Inspector (Lord help Scotland if this were their calibre of police enforcement), “Robbo” begins his scheming in a plot to ruin his workmates and fellow promotion chasers’ reputations, and therefore their chance of “winning”. He dispassionately calls these manipulative ploys “the games”. It’s in these “games” that Bruce gets to showcase to the audience – sometimes in breaking the fourth wall – just how vile, misanthropic, racist, sexist, homophobic and downright casual he is in going about it all, the latter of that long list being the most worrying as there seems to be an absence of any semblance of a conscience.
As per Bruce’s personal assessments, Dougie Gillman (Brian McCardie) is “your average Scottish copper”, and poses a ‘serious challenge to his promotion prospects’ at 5 to 1 odds, which means he must be “eliminated” (bit dire, don’t you think?). Peter Inglis (Emun Elliott) is Bruce’s main threat at 2 to 1, although his obvious closet homosexuality presents himself as an easy target for Bruce to expose to a still uneducated and discriminatory society. The resident rookie of the bunch, young Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) is also a junkie, but is a long shot at 20 to 1… oh, and not because of the drugs, but because he is more interested in pursuing the office secretary. Gus Bain (Gary Lewis) is a few sandwiches short of a picnic, though Bruce states that a single-digit IQ has never held a policeman back before, giving him 7 to 1 odds. And finally, there’s 10 to 1 odds Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots), whom Bruce is convinced is sleeping with Chief Inspector Bob Toal (John Sessions). On top of the planning and manipulating of his co-workers, Bruce indulges in copious amounts of alcohol, drugs, and meaningless sex. Of note, he has repeated rendezvous with Chrissie (Kate Dickie), Dougie’s wife, who likes to ‘turn off each other’s gas’, i.e., code for asphyxiation.
As the film progresses, Bruce suffers from increasingly traumatic and confronting hallucinations. Not only does he periodically imagine frightful visages of animals on humans’ bodies – including his own, which is a pig, aptly – he also drifts into a surreal rendering of a psychiatrist’s office, with Jim Broadbent playing a creepy, disquieting and provoking portrayal of Dr. Rossi, responsible for medicating Bruce for his bi-polar disorder. The audience starts to become privy to developments earlier in his life, and recent, that have led to his current, self-destructive state. Everything falls apart as the viewer begins to sort of feel bad for the man, who by no means deserves it. In fact, by the end of the film, the character himself reprimands the audience for feeling so. It’s one of those films that can easily be understood, but still deserves a second viewing for a new perspective with the myriad foreshadowing and symbolism placed throughout. That’s if you can even sit through it in the first place, as the film is filled with graphic language and high impact sex scenes that may turn some away. Then again, with a film called Filth, and source material written by Irvine Welsh, I doubt watchers would be coming in blind.
Visuals & Audio
Filth‘s 2.35:1, 1080p video transfer maintains the original look of the film to a tee, from the gloomy, low-light, unsaturated scenes of daily life, to the much sharper and brighter hallucinations Bruce suffers from. Much of the film features a muted colour palette, representing the gloominess of a constantly overcast Scotland. It also reinforces that this is by no means a glamorous life you are witnessing unfold. Bruce’s visions of his “Self”, manifested as a mad-hat, evil scientist take on his psychiatrist don’t present themselves as overly trippy, instead relying on different camera techniques and the pure strangeness of his surroundings to sell the experience. The lossless Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is clear, however you wouldn’t be blamed for needing to turn on the subtitles as the dialogue incorporates Scots language and rhyming slang, intermixed with the more common Scottish English.
Clint Mansell (a busy man, responsible for the score of current box-office smash NOAH) has created an overall tense score, utilising very off-putting melodies and electric guitar riffs that sound like they were pulled from a thriller such as 28 Days Later. Although, the movie does open with his own faithful version of the uplifting ‘Winter Wonderland’ – given that the film during Christmas season – yet multiple tracks have an overwhelmingly sad tone to them, composed with a purely orchestral instrumentation. A favourite is ‘The Games’, in which Mansell appropriates part of George Bizet’s ‘Habanera Act 1′ from ‘Carmen Suite No. 2’, dropping an octave and lending a more appropriately mischievous air to the track. The talented composer also employs the traditional sounds of Scottish bagpipes here and there for some local flavour. Mansell perfectly captured the varying mood swings experienced by both Bruce and, through audience involvement, the viewer.
Just like the star of the film – who is absolutely brilliant here – once intimated, Filth will draw you in and repulse you at the exact same time. Although it doesn’t go as far as the novel, if it did we’d probably never see the film come to fruition. In its condensed interpretation, most would agree that the R 18+ rated picture is disturbing enough, and successfully conveys all the important, layered narrative elements that Welsh is known for in his writing. There are some notable differences, such as the existential monologues of Robbo’s tapeworm being replaced by the surrealist hallucinations involving his psychiatrist. The blu-ray transfer is flawless, with spotless visuals and crisp audio. The only disappointment here is missing out on any special features, especially after hearing about a few deleted scenes that, let’s say, take proceedings to a whole new level of distastefulness (if that is even possible). The infamous “Angus” sequence is among them. Regardless, provided you have a sick sense of humour and can stomach a high degree of vulgarity, you’ll be able to appreciate Filth for the achievement in British cinema it is.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.