There's really only one reason why I set out to watch Jon S Baird's Filth. Not because James McAvoy was playing the lead, not because the plot, poster or trailer spoke to me, not even because I was looking forward to the thick Scottish accents that were bound to pop up. I watched Filth because it was an adaptation of one of Irvine Welsh's books, which tend to make for great cinematic adventures. And sure enough ...
Ever since Boyle adapted Trainspotting, the name Irvine Welsh has led me try out films no matter how weak the link. I once tried reading Trainspotting (the book) but at the time the phonetic Scottish accents were a bit too much for me. With the proper subtitles to aid me though there's nothing standing between me and a good 90 minutes of juicy, depraved comedy. And Baird delivers with Filth, even though it never reaches the heights of Boyle's masterpiece.
Baird's approach is a unique one. Filth carries the typical Welsh sense of humor and it's clearly a descendent of the Trainspotting school of film, but at the same time there's also an unmistakeable dash of Jeunet's Amélie here. Of course without the French charm and finesse, but the slightly fantastical introduction set to a strong and entertaining voice-over deviates strongly from what you'd expect of a film like Filth. That's not a bad thing mind.
The film follows police detective Bruce Robertson, a self-assured, confident and proud cop who treats life as his own personal game of chess. He eliminates the people around him in order to reach his goal (promotion to chief of police) as quickly as possible. His slick demeanor helps him forward, but behind the facade that Robertson puts up hides a darker, sicker and ... well, filthier truth. And once that facade starts to break down, there's nothing left but a long road downhill.
Visually Filth is a slick and modern film. Snappy editing, some nice settings, quirky and agile camera work and some moody lighting to finish it off. It's a pleasant film to watch, though it does miss the genius of a man like Boyle. While Baird gets very close at times, the level of quality isn't quite consistent enough to give Boyle (and by extension Guy Ritchie) a run for their money. Still, Filth doesn't disappoint either and there's still plenty to admire here.
The soundtrack is exactly what you'd expect from a film like this. Lots of slightly off-center pop music (mostly of the Brit pop variety), enhanced by some 90s dance (Dr Alban, Felix, Culture Beat) and trance (Darude). The score itself is handled by Clint Mansell (of Pi and Requiem for a Dream fame), making for a pretty strong mix of uptempo and atmospheric tracks. The original score isn't as memorable as it could be, but the sound design makes up for that.
Which brings me to the cast. Before this film I only knew James McAvoy from his slightly snobby, polite and well-behaved roles. The ideal son in law, something detective Robertson is absolutely not. It might be the exact reason why McAvoy took the part, as typecasting can ruin someone's career in the long run. Somewhat surprisingly McAvoy is perfect as Robertson. His thick accent takes him halfway there, his spirited and full-blown attempt to become one with his character does the rest. The secondary cast is sublime too, with Eddie Marsan in a most memorable role.
Filth may feel a little disjointed. Baird take his time to unfold the story and doesn't mind a quick sidestep if it adds to the overall fun. It isn't until halfway through that Robertson begins to crack (even though it's obvious from the very start that something is seriously amiss), before that it's all just fun and games. For me it's part of the charm, but I'm sure not everyone will appreciate the free-wheeling first part.
The question remains if Baird could manage on his own, without the help of Welsh's source material, but at least for now that doesn't really matter. Filth is fun, outrageous, grotesque and ultimately filthy enough to warrant its title. It isn't up there with the best of Welsh's adaptations, but that probably isn't a very fair comparison to make. It's a good film in its own rights and that's all a film really needs to be.