James McAvoy stars in "Filth," a Magnolia Pictures release.
McAvoy's intense performance electrifies Scottish crime drama Filth. Over the next few weeks, James McAvoy will likely be touring the talk show circuit, chatting about his latest movie. The Scottish actor reprises his role as Professor Charles Francis Xavier in the upcoming film "X-Men: Days of Future Past," set for release May 23.
On May 30, another film featuring McAvoy will open in a handful of U.S. markets, released by Magnolia Pictures. "Filth," a 2013 Scottish crime drama, fulfills the implicit potential of its title, displaying a wealth of sordid depravities and wanton debauchery as it traces the moral, physical and psychological disintegration of its central character.
The film places Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) under the magnifying glass. Robertson - explicitly illustrated not just as a run-of-the-mill crooked cop but as a misogynistic, misanthropic sociopath with Machiavellian aspirations - is up for a promotion, along with a half dozen or so others. He immediately sets out to sabotage each of his colleagues through whatever means necessary, including bedding their wives and broadcasting confidential details of their private lives.
Though Robertson is shamelessly dishonorable and devious, he's equally mesmerizing, due in part to the film's twisted sense of humor and its often-surrealistic tone.
Fortunately for Robertson, someone has been murdered. His boss, Chief Inspector Bob Toal (John Sessions), puts him in charge of the investigation. Robertson latches on to this undertaking as an opportunity to secure the promotion.
Robertson turns out to be his own worst enemy, of course. Addicted to everything from narcotics and whisky to auto-erotic asphyxiation, all of his poorly-executed schemes ultimately begin to unravel. As the register of failures expands, Robertson's tenuous grip on sanity becomes increasingly obvious. His descent into madness is punctuated by unsettling hallucinations, including a dead child and a mocking psychologist (Jim Broadbent).
There are obvious and intentional connections between director Jon S. Baird's adaptation of "Filth" and Danny Boyle's film "Transpotting." To begin with, both films are cinematic treatments of novels written by Scottish author Irvine Welsh. The similarities in style are striking and unambiguous. Each film boasts edgy narrators serving up existential soliloquies, garish and intense visual sequences and trippy phantasmagorias that would make the late Ken Russell queasy.
But Baird tips his hat to a few other filmmakers in "Filth." In the opening scenes there is an episode that clearly evokes the ultra-violence of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." The film also features other visuals references to Kubrick. Another dreamy sequence seems to call to mind David Lynch's "Blue Velvet."
Baird's "Filth," however, is predominantly dark and provoking. Despite the ubiquitous and subversive sleaze that oozes from Robertson's pores, the director compels the audience to view the central character as a product of past trauma.
It's difficult to imagine anyone else playing Robertson. McAvoy's dynamic, gonzo performance amplifies this disturbing and darkly comic drama.
In the film's production notes, Baird talked about casting McAvoy in the role.
"I'll never forget the moment I found him," Baird said. "I was waiting in the lobby of a Soho hotel feeling somewhat apprehensive, because casting the perfect Bruce Robertson was proving the hardest task of all. Not that it came as any great surprise. Comedy, tragedy, violence, sex and insanity: The part demanded it all, and demanded it all in extremes. There was no hiding place for whoever landed this potentially career-defining role. Bruce was in every scene."
Baird assumed that McAvoy probably had a gentle kind of upbringing.
"But 10 minutes into our meeting, as he started to explain his tough Glaswegian background, and why exactly he understood this character, a shiver raced up my spine," Baird said. "McAvoy's intelligence, humor and edge immediately put him in a league of his own, and the hunt for Bruce Robertson had come to an end."
Other cast members give equally forceful performances.
Broadbent is downright creepy as Dr. Rossi, Robertson's psychologist who appears more often to the detective in terrifying hallucinations than in reality. Eddie Marsan plays Clifford Blades, a wealthy member of Robertson's masonic lodge who becomes entangled in one of the detective's twisted diversions. Marsan is delightfully pathetic and docile as he staggers between blind obedience to his wife and meek submissiveness to Robertson's decadent whims.
Other standout performances include Imogen Poots stars as Amanda Drummond, Jamie Bell as Ray Lennox, Shirley Henderson as Bunty and Gary Lewis as Gus Bain.
"Filth" is not a feel-good movie and it's certainly not for the delicate and easily offended. Its brutally explicit rendering of gradual self-destruction is unsettling and grotesque. For those who can stomach it, "Filth" is thoroughly rewarding with its jarringly grim humor, its gaudy degeneracy and its cathartic morality tale.
"Filth" is due for limited release in the United States on May 30 and will probably be screened mainly in art house cinemas and, possibly, in a few larger multiplexes. For those who would like to see the film before its official release date, "Filth" is now On Demand and iTunes.