'Filth' review: James McAvoy shows his savage side

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:00 PM ET

It is impossible to love Filth, and not just because it is a dirty, ugly and nasty film. But it is impossible to hate it, too.

The problem is lead actor James McAvoy. He is absolutely and savagely brilliant. Thanks to his balls-out, no-holds-barred and emotionally naked performance, you are compelled to watch — no matter how mad and disgusting the story gets.

McAvoy is either insane or one of the bravest actors in the world. He is certainly one of the best, especially for his range and willingness to strip away the glamour. There are no limits to what he does to communicate the depths of despair that his character in Filth sinks to.

McAvoy plays a Scottish cop who is angling for a promotion in hopes of winning his wife and daughter back. He idolizes and idealizes his estranged wife in an unhealthy manner. That leads to a brain-dead binge of alcohol, drugs and wastoid sex with other women, including creepy scenes involving a minor and coercion and an adult woman whom he harasses with sexual threats on the telephone.

Meanwhile, he is derelict in his duties, failing to properly investigate the brutal murder of a Japanese student who is beaten to death by thugs (in a faint echo of Clockwork Orange and its droogs). He conspires to ruin the promotion chances of his colleagues, including a young detective (Jamie Bell) who is also a reckless druggie). McAvoy plays the homophobia card, lies about everyone, is rude without provocation and even gives a boy with a balloon the double finger, after stealing the balloon and letting it float away.

Filmed mostly in Scotland, with brief scenes shot in Belgium and Germany, Filth is social commentary. The film is based on the dystopian novel by Edinburgh author Irvine Welsh, who also wrote Trainspotting.

While Danny Boyle transformed Trainspotting into a British classic, Jon S. Baird falls far short of that with Filth, even with McAvoy’s electrifying, nerve-jangling performance at its core. To be honest, many of the scenes in the final act verge on puerile or just ridiculous, especially in the way the “truth” about our anti-hero is revealed and the murder case is solved. The final scene is also just absurd — and not at all satisfying.

At the same time, there is the memory of McAvoy. He somehow makes us care for the most repugnant anti-hero possible. For that miraculous feat, he deserves some kind of award — and all the credit for making Filth worth watching.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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