UK | 2013 | Directed by Jon S. Baird

Logline: A corrupt, manipulative, drug addict cop is in line for a promotion, but finds his own schemes and plans to be scuttling his chances at everything.

Despite being the fourth of Irvine Welsh’s books to be adapted for the big screen, Filth is by no means any easier to digest. In fact, this is one of the hardest to generate any empathy, but that’s not surprising, as Welsh relishes creating lead characters that are deeply unsympathetic, usually with addiction problems, and often infused with a sarcastic, cynical sense of humour. Baird, who also penned the screenplay, has not toned down the central character of Welsh’s novel; to put it bluntly, Bruce (James McAvoy) is a cunt.

Brown-nosing for a promotion, Robertson will stop at nothing to clinch this higher position within the precinct. The murder of an Asian teenager has Robertson pulling out all his dirtiest tricks and grubbiest tactics to upset and foil his colleagues, all of whom are keen on the same promotion. The problem is: Bruce and the arena of the unwell. This man has issues. Serious.

Robertson is a whiskey-swilling, coke-addled, sex-abusing, foul-mouthed charmer. He’s his own worst enemy. And the battlefield is his playground. The real trouble starts when his bad habits begin to lap at his blistered heels. There’s only so far you can climb up the ladder of deception before the rungs start to splinter. Robertson’s grip on the reality show of life is starting to slip and slide. Soon enough this little piggy who had roast beef is the little piggy who ran all the way home with his wee tail between his legs …

The first half of Filth is tough going; it’s as chaotic and intense and obnoxious and heady as snorting a gram in a short space of time because it’s almost lockout time and you’d better be on the floor before that happens. It’s hard to find anyone to like. And those accents are impenetrable! But James McAvoy is brilliant, arguably in his most affecting performance to date, certainly his most bold and compelling.

The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, and it’s a well-heeled bunch too: Eddie Marsan as Robertson’s hapless buddy Bladesey, Martin Compston as hoodlum Gorman, Imogen Poots as police colleague Amanda, Jamie Bell as rival cop Lennox, Shirley Henderson as randy Bunty, Pollyanna McIntosh as the office size queen, John Sessions as Chief Inspector Toal, and last, but not least, Jim Broadbent, as Robertson’s Ocker psychiatrist Dr. Rossi.

Filth is an identity crisis wrapped up in a brown paper bag. It’s a cracked portrait of a hedonistic descent into self-inflicted delusion. It’s a morality tale disguised as a full-blown bender; the violent seduction of power and the tragic effects of mental illness. A hell of a cocktail. 

I’ve not read the novel, but I get the impression Jon Baird’s remained quite faithful to the tone and intent of the novel. He’s certainly got visual flair. But this is not a cute carousel cruise; it’s a fucking bronco billy ride. Wake up and smell the coffee sunshine, the future’s not bright, its pitch black, like wicked medicinal comedy. 

Filth is released in Australia on DVD & Blu-ray through Icon Entertainment on April 3rd.