Degeneracy has never looked as sorrowful as James McAvoy, screaming, crying and berating his way through a comfortably unnerving hour and a half, adapting the words of Irvine Welsh with director Jon S. Baird. Filth is just that. Utter smut. It is vile and depraved in ways only Welsh could conjure. Trainspotting might be a delve into the heroin scene, but it is the acceptance of decadence there that makes it less shocking. When the long arm of the law is dabbling in the crimes that they are meant to crack down on, all under the guise of catchy and obnoxious taglines, the same rules mentality and the care-free attitude of a proud Scotsman hating his fellow man, it becomes a melting point of vagrancy and a sincere turn of how forgiving an audience can be.
Because for all the double-crossing, drug use and denial Bruce Robertson (McAvoy) fires at himself, there is a layer of humanity in there too. Deep down, buried underneath this built-up disdain for the world around him, triggered by the personal shortcomings of the man himself, is a desire to move on and up. It is nearly impossible to consider any form of goodness rolling out of Robertson until the latter stages of the film when the breakdown is in full effect, the manipulation of the first act comes crashing in on itself in such a satisfying, chilling way. But linking that all together are moments of imaginative fervour that experiment with what is and is not acceptable for the long arm of the law to think up. It’s a film that hopes its audience play the game, the same rules apply to them as they do to Robertson, who makes for the best offering of the unreliable narrator trope to date. It feeds into the book, and Welsh feeds that right back into this adaptation.
There is an underlying tone of aggressive irony throughout Filth and the “no place like home” mentality that Robertson inflicts on those around him. He could think of nowhere better to be than his home country, but even then that is the place where misery lies. That’s the best part of Filth, it is a demonstration of those stuck without a choice and making it up as they go along. A love for the city they were born in because they have nowhere else to think, and have no reason to venture out or engage. Even if Robertson did in the book with his background in Australian policing, it is brought up in Filth more as a need to escape with weekend getaways to Amsterdam, never quite flying the nest that beats and bruises him. That much is shown monumentally well by McAvoy’s leading performance and the breaks from reality that show a shattered mental state.
A Christmas film not quite for the whole family, but an opportune time to show just what happens when a man defects from his and fails to keep his demons at bay. Straightforward, or at least it is when compared to the book. Filth is a rare beast, a perfect book that spawned a perfect adaptation. Baird knows what to cut, why to do so and how it’ll affect the later unravelling. McAvoy can stand on his own as a great lead, someone who can twist the knife and pat the back of the supporting performers, expertly handled by Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots and Jamie Bell in particular. A fine role for everyone involved, and the late John Sessions is an impressive addition to an already stacked cast of familiar faces cutting into each other with belligerent swears and an animosity that screams of stereotypical Scotland.