Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In Theaters/On VOD: FILTH (2014)

(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.

Det. Sgt. Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), is an Edinburgh cop obsessed with discrediting the colleagues in line for the promotion he wants for himself. Robertson is a sociopath, a misanthrope, an alcoholic, a junkie, a thief, and a sex addict. He's corrupt and amoral, and his sickness has spread to his impressionable young partner Lennox (Jamie Bell), as the two routinely go on coke-and-hooker binges.  While Lennox is questioning an 18-year-old man for engaging in unlawful sexual conduct with his under-the-age-of-consent 15-year-old girlfriend, Robertson is in the next room getting a blowjob from said underage girl in exchange for not telling her dad what she's been doing.  Robertson is supposed to be investigating the murder of a Japanese tourist with Lennox and the ambitious Dunning (Imogen Poots), but they end up doing the leg work as Robertson instead spreads rumors about other cops, steals balloons from little kids, engages in mutual erotic asphyxiation with the wife (Kate Dickie) of an irate cop (Brian McCardie), makes obscene phone calls to the wife (Shirley Henderson) of his nebbishy, dweeby lodge brother Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), from whom he steals money to buy drugs, and then drags away on an ostensible bicycling trip to Hamburg, where he visits brothels on his own after slipping Bladesey some roofies, leaving him stranded at a gay bar, and forcing him to squint his way through the rest of the trip after stealing his incredibly thick-lensed eyeglasses, and throwing them in a river between periodic hallucinations with a mocking shrink (Jim Broadbent). Robertson is a bad guy---he's also bipolar and off his meds--and in his more introspective moments, pines for the wife (Shauna Macdonald) who left him, but some semblance of good exists deep within him when he tries to save a dying man on a busy street while everyone else stands around helplessly.  The man's widow (Joanne Froggatt) sees he's a troubled soul but instead of letting her in, resorts to his maniacally excessive ways.

There's no denying McAvoy throws himself into the role much like 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?

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