Filth-the-movie-2100615So what are we to make of Filth? Is it a comedy as advertised, a crime pic focused on a murder investigation, or a drama about one man’s inner demons?

There are parts within the first stretch that are howlingly funny, and the movie starts as if it will earn a place as a paragon of bad taste alongside such entries as South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Bad Santa, and Ted. James McAvoy portrays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson as if he were Denzel Washington in an uproarious redo of Training Day. Robertson’s the type that will coerce a minor into sex and then criticize her technique. He’s after a promotion to Inspector, and he handicaps his competition on the Edinburgh police force for the audience with the odds flashing up in a graphic on screen after he verbally skews each of them.

Robertson is egged on in his ambition by his noir-perfect wife, Carole (Shauna Macdonald), who is all midnight black stockings and blood red lipstick. She explains that she has made herself unavailable to Bruce until he secures the promotion, and with each luscious soft focus appearance of his spouse, we think that it’s too good to be true for such a bastard to have such an ideal lover.

It is about that time that the tone shifts from comedy to psychodrama as we learn that Robertson may just be laughing on the outside. Inside, he is something of a freaking mess. Director Jon S. Baird takes a page from the Terry Gilliam playbook with increasingly fantastic sequences of Bruce and his psychiatrist, Dr. Rossi (Jim Broadbent), while the police detective’s tormenting of his alleged best friend becomes more mean-spirited than amusing, and the murder investigation on which Bruce’s best chance for promotion hang is getting away from him. Bruce’s life increasingly revolves around drink, drugs, and porn, and the jokes that remain come mainly at his expense.

In the third act, the race car of a film that director Baird unleashes at the outset and then keeps on the track through a skittish middle, finally craps out and needs to be pushed across the finish line. The character of Bruce Robertson, after we learn every dark secret, after we hear the punchline to every joke, after we shake hands with every personal demon, seems small. Instead of the swaggering, larger-than-life, force-of-nature-at-its-worst, corrupt, addled, bigoted cop that careens through the early going, we are left with a petty little man whose halfhearted apologies and acts of penance are unmoving.

Two suggestions to the filmmakers regarding the ending. As parent and child are paramount symbols here, perhaps it would be better to leave the identity of the pair at the door ambiguous. Also, if you are going to sign off with a catch phrase, it is better to have firmly established the catch phrase in question beforehand.

And yet, despite the weaknesses, Filth is worth seeing for the outrageousness of the humor, for the work of a superior cast, for the Scottish setting that is used to full effect, and for the originality and boldness of the effort even if it falls a bit short. The same rules don’t always apply.

So what are we to make of Filth?

Three stars.



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