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  • Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

Filth

FILTH. Starring James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson, and Jim Broadbent. Directed by Jon S Baird. Rated R18+. Restricted. (High impact sex scenes). 97 min.

This is a British comedy, crime-drama based on the director's (Jon S Baird) adaptation of a 1998 novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh. It is the story of a disturbed policeman who becomes trapped by what he does to increase his chances of promotion. His family has left him, and his efforts to win back the affection of his wife and daughter, both of whom are alienated from him, are to no avail. He is reduced to crying while watching home videos of them, knowing what he has done to lose them.

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), as the policeman, works and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He spends nearly all of his time scheming and plotting to advance himself and does his colleagues in, particularly those who might be candidates for the position he wants. He is addicted seriously to alcohol and drugs and constantly forms sexually dysfunctional relationships with the women around him. He bullies his mild-mannered accountant friend, Clifford Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), and sexually harasses Bladesey's wife, Bunty (Shirley Henderson) for which he manages to frame his only real friend.

Detective Sergeant Robertson wants desperately to be promoted to the rank of Detective Inspector. Assigned to investigate the murder of a Japanese student, and in his ambition to be advanced, he begins to lose his grip on reality. His recourse to drugs drives him to experience increasingly intense hallucinations. He has dream-like sessions with his Psychiatrist (Jim Broadbent) which indicate that he bears the guilt of the accidental death in the past of his younger brother. Unnerved by another person being put in charge of the investigation, he draws out those responsible for the death of the Japanese student and takes justice into his own hands. He is demoted in rank for doing so, and loses all chance of advancement. The film concludes just as he is about to commit suicide. There is a shadow at the door of someone who might be able to offer friendship, even love, but it is too late .

This is a lurid film about one man's depraved walk through life, and it represents the vivid descent into hallucinated unreality of an person not a lot of people like. The film pulls no punches in depicting Bruce Robertson as a morally corrupt sociopath with an insatiable appetite for unusual sex, and its humour comes almost entirely through the depiction of immoral events. For example, Robertson unashamedly steals his colleagues' wives, engages constantly in prurient acts, and he has no hesitation in exposing anyone's personal secrets, or longings, if it suits him to do so.

Despite obvious objections to Robertson's behaviour, McAvoy's depiction of Robertson is amazing. We are exposed to a convincing portrait of a sexist, racist bigot, who is totally dedicated to advancing himself in any way possible. He offends everyone, but manages not to forfeit our awareness of his essential insecurity and vulnerability.

It is hard not to compare this movie with Danny Boyle's iconic "Trainspotting (1996) which deals also with addiction. That movie was based on another (1993) novel by Irvine Welsh, but this movie communicates a far less coherent sense of stylish irreverence. We understood more about the nature of addiction in "Trainspotting" than what we do in this film. Both, however, share a sense of high energy in the telling.

In deciding to go to this movie, one should be deeply conscious of its R rating which anticipates the offence that it delivers in the name of comedy. One is never in doubt that this is a movie about moral depravity of a person well on the slide into madness.

In lots of ways, this is a tough film that offers little relief from a culture of unmitigated despair. Any attempts to find moral decency in it will find no traction, though McAvoy's uncompromising performance as Robertson is exceptional. The film lives out energetically, creatively, and perfectly intentionally, the suggestive implications of its one-word title.

Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Icon Films.

Out November 21st 2013.