Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Filth - 2013

"Filth" - 2013
Dir. by Jon S. Baird - 1 hr. 37 min.

Official Red Band Trailer #2

by Clayton Hollifield

So let's get the obvious out of the way: "Filth" earns it's title, and then some.  It's like a 95th percentile film on the offensiveness scale, meaning that even if you like this sort of material, there's going to be something here somewhere that's going to go down the wrong way.  Then again, if you're the sort of chap who's up for a movie titled "Filth," based on a novel by Irvine Welsh (who also was responsible for "Trainspotting"), and you know what all of that implies, you've got precious little room to complain.  It's important to note, but not the entire story here.  "Filth" is a compelling, darkly funny, supremely messed up story, and it establishes star James McAvoy as something I hadn't really gotten from him in his previous work: he can be a very scary man.

Bruce (James McAvoy) is a detective among a bunch of detectives, and in Bruce's mind, they're all up for the same promotion, which he sees as his path to a better life.  And thus Bruce sets about to prove himself the schemingest bastard in all of Scotland, determined to undermine all of his co-workers, with much success.  A high profile case, involving the murder of a Japanese student by a street gang, and the case is put in Bruce's lap.  Successfully closing the case would pretty much lock down his promotion, but he barely has control of himself.  Bruce rampages through life, fueled by endless supplies of booze, drugs, rough sex with nearly anyone that he can get his hands on (all the better if they're married to someone else), and with absolutely no regrets.  But his erratic behavior begins to catch up to him quickly, and things spiral out of control.

"Filth" is a top-contender in what comics author Warren Ellis dubbed "asshole fantasies."  It's the appeal of the anti-hero - the ability to do the least socially-acceptable deeds without consequence.  For the first half or so of this film, there's the sociopathic glee of watching someone behave in "Grand Theft Auto" manner.  McAvoy plays a true bastard, tearing down anything that even carries a whiff of something to respect.  He's literally never sober, nails co-worker's wives in order to undermine their professional hopes, intimidates suspects (when he can be bothered to do work).  Honestly, he makes being a scumbag look pretty fun.  McAvoy is handsome enough, and the character has a certain charisma to him that it looks like a workable way to live life.  And I know that I'm not making it sound like he's mistreating people that badly, but I want to leave the experience of watching his behavior somewhat fresh for viewers.  Trust me, he is that bad, and another enjoyable aspect to "Filth" is that it's a worthy entry into the "bad cop" genre of film.

But even though the tone is harsh, dark, and probably off-putting to a large portion of the population, there is more to "Filth" than vicarious thrills and then watching the consequences catch up to this man.  This is no morality tale.  Author Irvine Welsh and writer/director Jon S. Baird do something even more evil.  Whenever there's a tragedy, there's no shortage of bereft people shaking their heads, saying, "I just don't understand why someone would do this."  Welsh and Baird take that statement as a challenge to action.  You will understand why Bruce does what he does, and it's going to be uncomfortable, and it's going to challenge you, and the film will turn and the things that seemed funny and messed up graduate to horrific and fucked up.  And if Bruce seems like he's been acting as if he was compelled to behave in the manner that he has been, even when the edges of reality start to fray, you're going to get it.  And then, things don't stop happening just because no one seems to have any control over any of it.  Things just keep happening.

And there are a number of interesting conventions being used to tell the story.  It's always kind of fun when McAvoy breaks the fourth wall, but we've got suitably-warped dream sequences, hallucinations, characters that may or may not exist, song sequences (and a really great soundtrack)...  The whole thing adds up to a dizzying reality that doesn't really have any lulls, except when they're there to lull you into taking a breath.

It's kind of a shame that "Filth" is being presented as an indie/art film.  It's not that I think that it's palatable enough to achieve mainstream success, but it's an impressive piece of storytelling from all angles.  The transition from a hyper-charged reality to what would probably have to qualify as an emotional horror tale is well-done, compelling, and also doesn't try to cram a feel-good ending down your throat, like "Flight" did.  I mean, sometimes drug abusers stay messed up!  Besides, you're not going to see a movie called "Filth" on the basis of a redemption story, are you?  Are you?  I wouldn't, at least.  I want to see a movie called "Filth" live up to it's title, which this movie does, and then get a really good story on top of that, which this movie also does.

4 / 5 - Theatre

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