(Germany/US/UK/Sweden/Belgium - 2013; US release 2014)
Written and directed by Jon S. Baird. Cast: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Joanne Froggatt, Shauna Macdonald, Shirley Henderson, John Sessions, Gary Lewis, Brian McCardie, Emun Elliott, Martin Compston, Kate Dickie, Iain De Caestecker, Joy McAvoy, Pollyanna McIntosh, Bobby Rainsbury. (R, 98 mins)
This grotesque adaptation of Irvine Welsh's 1998 novel suffers from the same problem that plagued the last movie based on a Welsh work, the little-seen Canadian film ECSTASY (2012). While FILTH doesn't have Canadian actors attempting to tackle Scottish accents and losing spectacularly, it does share with ECSTASY a sense that it's been kept in storage for 15 years and is only now being released. It seems inevitable that every film version of Welsh's work will look and feel like Danny Boyle's landmark TRAINSPOTTING (1996), but in the hands of a director with vision like, say, a David Cronenberg or a Terry Gilliam, FILTH's parade of filth could've had some unique gonzo artistry that would've made its own mark outside of the dated world of TRAINSPOTTING knockoffs. Instead, it's the work of writer/director Jon S. Baird, who has one other feature under his belt (the obscure 2008 crime drama CASS), with his only other credit of note being an associate producer on the 2005 cult film GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS. Baird is obviously a fan of Boyle and probably saw FILTH as a way to pay homage to both him and Welsh, but it's all so familiar and formulaic at this point. Baird's FILTH only makes fleeting mention of a key element of Welsh's novel: the tapeworm that's inside the protagonist's body and, as it grows and spawns, it starts narrating its own chapters. The elimination of that "character"--something with which a hypothetical Cronenberg or Gilliam would've had a blast--leaves Baird with little to do other than fashion FILTH as BAD LIEUTENANT with a Scottish burr.
Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage did in each of their interpretations of BAD LIEUTENANT. But FILTH the movie is a dumbed-down version of Filth the book and plays like stale retread of BAD LIEUTENANT filtered through TRAINSPOTTING. It doesn't even keep Welsh's very INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN ABOVE SUSPICION-esque ending. It's shot in very much the same style, and you can almost see Ewan McGregor as Robertson if this was made a decade and a half ago. Many of Welsh's novels take place in the same universe with recurring characters popping up throughout (for example: Begbie, played by Robert Carlyle in TRAINSPOTTING, is mentioned several times throughout Filth), and on the page, it's part of an ever-expanding, self-referential universe. On the screen, it just comes across as repetitive and uninspired. Welsh is one of the film's 34 (!) credited producers and obviously signed off on it (which, much like most authors selling book rights, probably involved getting paid and then had nothing else to do with it), but the alterations made to the story are to its detriment. Yes, film is a different medium, but Baird just seems interested in the most transgressive elements of Welsh's story with little concern for other things that were going on. An ambitious adaptation of Filth would've explored more than Robertson's over-the-top histrionics. I'm probably making FILTH sound like a bad movie. It's an OK film, moderately entertaining and never dull (and there is one admittedly brilliant use of David Soul's "Silver Lady"), but it never really tries, either. If shock value is all Baird was after, why didn't he just remake BAD LIEUTENANT? Why bother adapting Welsh's book if you're just going to toss its most unique elements?