The fourth Irvine Welsh novel to be adapted for the big screen, Jon S. Baird’s Filth (2013) thankfully bears far more in common with the drug-fuelled classic Trainspotting (1996) than the other less successful translations. On the cusp of promotion, intensely misanthropic Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is given the task of solving a brutal murder. Seeing this as an opportunity to prove himself and win back his estranged wife and daughter, Bruce concocts a series of malevolent schemes to turn his colleagues against one another. However, as Bruce’s addiction to sex and drugs worsen, he starts to lose grip on reality.
Widely regarded as one of Welsh’s best, Filth was thought to be unfilmable. Yet the finished product is a heady and, more often than not, razor sharp riot of debauchery-come-inner chaos. Baird, in his infinite wisdom, bravely chooses to embrace the darkly comic and trippy tone of Welsh’s novel, forging a film that accurately depicts the unpredictability of Bruce’s tormented state of mind. This, above all else, enables McAvoy to deliver a sensational performance. His grasp of Bruce is impressive, and it’s a delight to watch him inhabit every inch of his lewd personality, whether it be his lust for sex or his desire to distress his colleagues, particularly Bladesley (Eddie Marsan) and his wife Bunty (Shirley Henderson).
McAvoy is ably matched by a keen supporting cast. While each deliver solid performances, it’s Marsan, Jamie Bell as Bruce’s friend and colleague Ray Lennox and Imogen Poots as Amanda Drummond, another police officer in line for promotion, who stand out. It’s somewhat of a shame, then, that the film somewhat loses itself towards the end as the central narrative is pushed further and further to the sidelines and sub-plots and initiated, then ditched, often at the drop of a hat. It’s as if the film, much like Bruce himself, is too out of control for its own benefit.
Yet, there’s a great deal of fun to be had here, and Baird deserves credit for his commitment to the material and, too, for his use of Edinburgh’s dark and squalid streets to further emphasise Bruce’s shaded self. Filth, as it establishes within the first twenty minutes, may not be for everyone, but it’s worth investing in if only to see McAvoy validate himself as one of the best British actors currently working.