Filth (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Filth (2014)

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Bruce is a bad man with needs.  He's up for promotion from his current position as a detective in Scotland's capital, and is willing to do whatever he needs to make it a reality.  Filth is an adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name, whose Trainspotting inspired the Danny Boyle film of the same name, and is the feature-length début of director Jon S. Baird.

What you need to enjoy yourselfFilth is not an evil film.  I'm prompted to give this disclaimer up-front because there's very little about it worth your time to give it deeper consideration, as I am about to, and I don't want to leave the idea that this film will somehow leave a mark on the world.  Does it depict evil?  Yes, in that sort of post-Guy Ritchie wannabe boundary-pushing mentality that results in a lot of different lens effects and very little heft.  But to call it evil, as some in the reviewing community have drifted toward, gives it a lot of credit it simply doesn't call for.

Take its depiction of homosexuality.  Barely five minutes into the film I wrote that there is a "Bit of the ol' homophobia right now" as one of Bruce's rivals for the promotion likes to dress nicely and thus is a metrosexual so must crave penis in all its forms.  But it chickens out of its own bigoted nature, presenting a myriad of awkward scenes where men dance to techno or show homosexuals as preening queens with high-pitched voices and land on genitals even if they get punched out.  This is all terrible, mind you, but the sort of bad cooked up in the minds of a teenage kid who doesn't know any better than pumped through a budget with the sole purpose of bringing those scenes to life with little trimming.

McAvoy gets through the film with his dignity intact when he would have been better off sacrificing just a smidge.

McAvoy gets through the film with his dignity intact when he would have been better off sacrificing just a smidge.

If its take on sexual orientation doesn't clue you in to what Filth is about, then it'll be difficult to miss the point when you arrive at the scene where all the men photocopy their penises as a party game.  Filth is a "Boys Only" club, a teenager's cowardly imagination filled with insecurities about girls, other ethnic groups, and gay people, set to the tune of a soundtrack terrified of the audience missing the point and a guided by a director with talent, but no idea where to take the messy source material.  There's so much excess hate but none of it very precise which results in a lot of scenes where the general sketch of something abhorrent is formed but the follow-through isn't quite there.  Instead it plods on and on, reiterating just how naughty it is via Bruce's rants without any teeth to show for it.

Perhaps I'm missing the point and the idea is to show how dull sadly predictable these sorts of prejudices are.  The question, then, is if we need to be reminded in scenes that make their adolescent insecurity known and then instead of shuffling off continue beyond the breaking point.  One rant early in the film spans nearly two minutes and consists of Bruce and his young protegé, Ray (Jamie Bell),  belittling an actual teenager with asthma with repeated threats of a man who rapes animals and will do the same to the kid.  On and on, they talk about holes, the livestock that bore those holes, and long after the point has been made exchange a few more lines all while Baird keeps the two inspector's heads in tight closeup with each line.  The dialogue doesn't cut, it plods, leaving a mucky trail and a desire for the dirty construction of limericks to give some spice to the film.

This leaves some room for the visual tricks of Filth to fill in the space with creativity, but it doesn't work out with Bruce's mindset.  It's set early on that Bruce isn't the most stable person, but his madness lends no cohesion to the visual grammar, and not in a complementary way.  In one scene we're watching a woman in lingerie walking around while harshly lit and in soft focus, the next it's a German expressionist music video with dwarfs in fetish wear, and then the camera's back on the floor with all the color drained out and a blue filter darkening Bruce's world.  This is not the language of madness, of Bruce's world, this is from the viewpoint of someone who depicts his mental cycle as a revolving set of style tests which feel more at home on one of those crazy Japanese game shows instead of in the mind of a mentally and ethically deficient person.  So every moment of possible invention with the same laser-pointed aim at being naughty misses badly, resulting in a series of stylistic experiments instead of a visual narrative.

The other stabs at being edgy fell flat, but I entered into a full-on eye roll when the dwarfs in gimp wear started dancing.

The other stabs at being edgy fell flat, but I entered into a full-on eye roll when the dwarfs in gimp wear started dancing.

I'm convinced that director Jon S. Baird has talent, and I hope to see a film that reins him in a bit.  James McAvoy, as a leading man, I'm still hesitant about.  This is one of those potential breakthrough roles that could show a new dimension to someone's talent and in McAvoy's case that revelation is entirely in volume.  He's got the energy, but misses that spark that wraps Bruce around a sinister coil ready to break.  Instead he goes about the majority his scenes as though they are more acting lessons and performs adequately, but without ever impressing.   In fact, his best moments are when he exercises his dominance through subtle physical restraint with Jamie Bell who, based on this and Nymphomaniac, is looking to drown his Billy Elliot days in a series of excellent, and dark, performances.

The Irvine Welsh novel that inspired this stab at depravity sat in the film booth of my old theater for three years, and every time I tried to pick it up something kept me from getting into the book.  Whether there are greater depths to the novel or not I may never be able to say, but Filth doesn't even pass the basic interest check as an adaptation.  What little interest I had in going back to the novel isn't enhanced by a film as limp as this.

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Tail - FilthFilth (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Jon S. Baird.
Starring James McAvoy.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. Good review Andrew. It’s McAvoy who saved this movie for me. Everything else was pretty wacky and crazy, but didn’t add up to much. He filled that void though.

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