Edinburgh police detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) has his eyes on a prize: a promotion, but how is he going to secure it with a number of rivals in contention? How about doing what he always does, lying, cheating, conniving...? He's a Machiavellian chap, is Bruce, but it could be his lifestyle is about to come crashing down, and it begins with the murder of a Japanese student who was walking home one night when a gang of thugs began following him, then stopped the man, robbed him of his money and as if that was not bad enough, proceeded to beat him to death. But there was a witness who could ensure these criminals are brought to justice - was it Bruce's wife Mary (Joanne Froggat)?
What exactly was a supposedly classy lady like her, in her husband's view at any rate, doing wandering the streets in the middle of the night anyway? There were a few questions which arose watching this adaptation of one of Irvine Welsh's novels, though chief among them was probably, why do filmmakers insist on adapting his works when it was incredibly difficult to capture what made them so compelling on the page? Even Danny Boyle's acclaimed Trainspotting, often regarded as one of the defining Britflicks of the nineties, fell short in comparison with how vivid and engrossing Welsh's original novel came across, and much of what arrived in its wake was wanting as well.
Not least those films which tried to emulate the profane, obscene poetry of Welsh without actually adapting his efforts, and concocting a poor quality facsimile full of unlikeable characters and humour which was cruel and depressing in the guise of a gritty, nonchalant cool. At least with Filth the results had the writer's backing, and no wonder when you watched the tour de force performance of James McAvoy who managed to hold together a plot which spiralled off with awkward clumsiness in all sorts of directions: this would be a lot harder to take without him and his charismatic, then pitiful, villainy. But even then, there were problems when everyone around him might as well have been portrayed by a cartoon character - broad was not the word for it.
Occasionally a proper performance peeked through the lurid contrivances and would-be shocks, such as Jamie Bell as Bruce's protege who he doesn't trust any more than anyone else in his life, including Bruce himself, or Imogen Poots as one of those rivals for the promotion who displays her ability in one setpiece argument at the station which suggests not everyone is the blundering hypocrite he sees them as, and indeed the rest of the movie tends towards too. Yet for the most part you were dealing with a variation on Welsh which had it that everything true to the text had to be presented at the top of its voice, so much so that by the final act a hangover had set in and both Bruce and the film were feeling very sorry for themselves.
Thrillseekers engaged with how far Filth went may be entertained, but simply having a reprehensible personality redeem himself by crying a lot in the last half hour failed to convince, and it was only McAvoy's skill that encouraged seeing this through to the bitter end. There was certainly an impressive cast of contemporary British talent, from the older generation such as John Sessions as Bruce's boss and Jim Broadbent as a hallucinatory doctor/tapeworm - there were many hallucinations in this, keeping things interesting - to middle aged thesps who had proven themselves elsewhere like the husband and wife team of Shirley Henderson (who Bruce pesters with obscene, Frank Sidebottom-inspired nuisance phone calls) and Eddie Marsan, the latter the anti-hero's meek best friend who is naturally treated abominably as nice, quiet folks tended to be in these movies, to a selection of fresh faces taking the bullshit by the horns. Yet with everything straining for effect, even a David Soul cameo (singing Silver Lady), and a "huh?" last line, this was more exhausting than amusing. Music by Clint Mansell.