I hesitate to recommend the most disturbing character study I’ve ever seen on film yet there is something about the very NSFW Filth that has stuck in my mind ever since I caught it on Netflix some months ago. It is the brash Scottish-ness about it, something angry and gritty and real about its depiction of urban Edinburgh, seen through the polluted lens of its main character, Bruce Robertson. A heavier and purposefully hungover James McAvoy plays the misanthropic, hedonistic anti-hero, a police officer clamouring for a promotion while not-so-secretly living a depraved life of endless substance abuse and sexual violence. Worst of all are Bruce’s nasty schemes, nicknamed “the games”, to humiliate his friends and colleagues for his own pleasure and gain. As unbelievably despicable as the protagonist is, McAvoy still manages to retain a sense of angst and pity about this repugnant officer of the law. Bruce slowly spirals into insanity, fuelled as he is by a troubled past and an unchecked path of self-destruction after his wife leaves him, taking their daughter too. McAvoy is mesmerising and unforgettable in this massively overlooked tour de force role that brings him completely out of his sweet and charming public image.
Filth is based on the novel of the same name by Scottish author Irvine Welsh (who also wrote the better-known, cult-classic Trainspotting). Both the film and novel deal with issues that plague the working class of Scotland today: rampant drug and alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, street crime, and freemasonry. These problems seem particularly idiosyncratic when presented without ceremony by the obscene, self-indulgent Bruce who engages shamelessly in all these activities. There is also a current of very dark humour running through the tale, reminiscent of the style of controversial Glaswegian comedian Frankie Boyle. In fact, I am reminded of other Scottish personalities, such as quirky ex-late night TV host Craig Ferguson and even the terrifically foul-mouthed character Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi in BBC’s The Thick of It, when thinking about why Filth seems so particularly Scottish. Of course, I am limited to my own understanding of current-day Scotland, which is mediated by the few persons and characters I’ve watched on screen, but something about the combination of razor-sharp social critique, pitch-black humour, and depressing levels of corruption that is presented in Filth hints at a fascinating and somewhat underrepresented culture simmering just across the pond.
Rating: 4 out of 5 psychedelic tapeworms