Film review: Filth (18)

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It’s been almost twenty years since a film based on an Irvine Welsh novel attempted to redefine Edinburgh in the eyes of the world. With Filth, the latest Welsh adaptation, lightning may be about to strike twice.

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James McAvoy with Shauna Macdonald. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

James McAvoy with Shauna Macdonald. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Opening with drink and drugs ravaged DS Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) trudging a weary path from the castle esplanade onto the streets of the Capital, Filth is quick to set out its stall. Our leading man is a racist, homophobic misogynist, without any attempt at a Hollywood sheen.

Robertson must investigate the murder of a young student while also plotting a way to get a promotion instead of his rivals, including Ray Lennox (Jamie Bell) and Gus Bain (Gary Lewis). At the same time he has some inner demons to contend with, made real through visions of his doctor, played with relish by Jim Broadbent.

This is a man who would happily destroy a friend’s marriage, consume drugs on the job and drive himself into the gutter rather than get help.

Refusing to compromise on the source material’s more distasteful elements, writer/director Jon S Baird has crafted that rare thing, an unashamedly Scottish film. While the national culture is given a verbal kicking by Robertson, both Edinburgh’s splendour and seedier spots are exposed.

Filth not only looks fantastic, Baird using unusual angles and reflections to show the uglier side of his actors, but sounds great, Clint Mansell’s angry score complemented by the occasional cheesy pop hit to confound audience expectations.

Despite a strong supporting cast, all of whom embrace the opportunity to play larger-than-life characters in Robertson’s increasingly paranoid world, McAvoy is the main reason Filth packs such an emotional punch.

Looking in his mid-40s (he’s only 34) with greasy hair and scraggly ginger beard, McAvoy doesn’t flinch from the more explicit content while still managing to offer up some tenderness in the quieter moments.

Filth is an overdue antidote to bland Scottish filmmaking, the equivalent of a helping of chippy sauce on your fish supper when you crave some much needed extra flavour.

Filth opens in cinemas on Friday