"I love doubt in a woman. It's nearly as sexy as determination."
Another unfilmable slice of Scottish seaminess courtesy of Irvine Welsh! This time, we follow the phonetical misdeeds of Detective Sgt. Bruce Robertson, a misanthropic manipulator bedeviled by genital eczema ("sacne"?), panic attacks, tapeworms, and a high-profile murder case as he tries to maintain his peculiar sanity inside a vacuum of sex drugs and schemes.
Brucey boy's not entirely unworthy of admiration, mind. He possesses the good cop's attentive eye and confident strut even as he is possessed by the bad cop's everything else. He's joined on the job by a game partner, a despicable supervisor and (of course) a strident female detective he wants to hate-fuck just like every other woman he meets. Blame it on the ex; she ran off, took the bairn, and Bruce misses them, much too much, but wallowing in the muck of self-pity will always require less effort than atoning for one's sins through righteous reassessment and rearrangement.
Failures on and off the job mount. Before long, the presumptuous lawman's world (within and without) begins to deteriorate with alarming quickness.
Unsurprisingly, childhood issues are at the the root of the fuckery. But y'all, an adult so cruel and unusual could not have sprung forth from the bog-standard "Daddy never hugged me and Mummy wished I'd been a girl" whining of your garden-variety felonious types. Don't believe me? Take it from the tapeworm. It's a surprisingly insightful little thing.
Re-reading Filth for this review felt like forcibly reliving the worst asthma attack of my life followed by the worst panic attack of my life, then watching a dog lick its vomit of of a geriatric git's wrinkly shrinky bits. I was sucked back in, though, like stubborn shit. Despite a few too many characters, and some of the least-arousing sexual intercourse ever described, Filth holds up (although the twist is obvious on second go-round, or maybe even first, I make no claims to a mind other than simple).
God, there's just something about reading Irvine Welsh that makes me appreciate how disgusting words can be. A fearless storyteller requires a fearless reader, though, and that's a dangerous game. First time, I read most of Filth in a bathroom, whether perched on the toilet until my legs conked, or sprawled in a tub until my skin puckered. It helped me get through it, for sure.
Mud spread over a slice of blackened bread it may be, but Welsh's third novel is still less claustrophobic and soul-destroying than his second, the I-promise-you-no-one-will-ever-make-a-movie-of-this classic Marabou Stork Nightmares. (Both books make Trainspotting come off as fey and simpering as Robert Herrick.)
Oh God why did I bring up Marabou Stork Nightmares, now my sleep is going to be haunted by puppies raping chipmunks.
Director-Jon S. Baird
Writer-Jon S. Baird
"Love is cruel."
No matter their shape, or how they're positioned, human beings will always look and sound thoroughly ridiculous during sex.
Kudos to Scotland's own Jon Baird for daring to adapt such a hurricane of immorality. Comparisons to that other Welsh book brought to life are perhaps unavoidable, certainly pointless, but not entirely baseless. Like Trainspotting, Filth is a well-framed, well-lit celebration of odious individuals in an odious world, based on a book whose pages reek of barely-washed crotch.
The main character narrates the action here as well, since no sensible director would dream of placing Filth outside of the bubbling gunk depository known as Bruce Robertson's head.
Blue-eyed bastard James McAvoy (Young Professor X in First Class, and the Danny Boyle/John Hodge thriller Trance) is marvelous as the marred and haggard BRUUUUUCE. Dude's an Ed Norton/Russell Crowe glitch with a pulse, giddily naughty as he attacks the role with no holds barred--I'm talking DDT's on the concrete, RKO's on infants, all that. He grasps the dichotomy of this flatulent sleazebag who longs for the comfort and affirmation of family. Genuine sorrow leaves him speechless, but the fake stuff activates his inner garrulous elixir salesman. He loves his wife, and he loves fucking her sister. He despises the supervisors in the police hierarchy, yet hopes to soon be one.
The center can't hold. The center can't even keep from sweating and shaking.
A person can burn out, fade away or, in a fit of originality, harden up and break into many tiny pieces.
The tapeworm is replaced by a hallucination of Bruce's actual psychiatrist (played by Jim Broadbent), just one of many visions that begin haunting the poor boy's hours as his mental scaffolding commences collapsing. His most dangerous game nearly takes him off the board permanent. He not only gets passed over for a promotion, he's stripped of his detective badge.
Credit James McAvoy's eternally for making Bruce even mildly likable. At a certain point I wanted the HMS Sad Cunt to somehow patch its own holes and rise but the overall damage is irreparable. This man is fucked, and there is no bleaching such an asshole.
BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
Is hatred not as reprehensible when it's all-inclusive? Is a misanthrope more tolerable than a supremacist? "Filth" is in the craw of the beholder, I suppose.
How I envisioned Bruce Robertson back in 1998: early 40s, hair wanting and wary, jaws a tad droopy, cheeks smeared with harsh pink, brown eyes flecked with green and set narrow as European streets. A presumptuous and arrogant semi-person who screws up every good thing before it can become great. If I'd squinted long enough, perhaps I'd make out the handsome fellow he used to be.
McAvoy is no sex god, but he's a damn sight more attractive than the Bruce in my head. This makes the film easier to swallow, but hell, water's easier to swallow than Robitussin. What works better for a cough? There ya go.
Another concession to the visual medium: the victim in the high-profile murder case was changed from a black male to a Japanese one. I assume since Asian slurs are more acceptable to audiences, and just a single slip of the n-word would ruin the main character's chances to connect with viewers. (Drugging on duty, coercing sex from underage chickies, banging buddies' wives…borderline.)
I loved Bruce's best pal "Bladesy" here much more than in the book, and that's all praise due to Eddie Marsan as the pathetic accountant who bumbles alongside Bruce as they vacation in Hamburg (changed from Amsterdam in the book, since who the fuck wouldn't rather go to Germany) and stumbles his way through a comical mismatch of a marriage. Marsan's presence and timing imbue the character with an affability that his book counterpart maintained for, hmm, two pages.
Irvine Welsh is a huge fan of the film, and why not, most of its best lines are direct from his work. But I don't share his belief that it's superior to the novel. For the first two-thirds, it had a decent shot. Then, finish line in sight, the runner stops...takes a seat on the track...shrugs, smirks, end credits.
First, there is the big reveal. Handled superbly, I feel, and anyone unfamiliar with the book will likely be sent for at least one loop (even though I instantly began thinking of Mike Nesmith in the "Fairy Tale" episode of The Monkees.) But then, Filth attempts to become a different movie. The immediate tonal shift is nearly as awkward as walking in on your grandparents fucking while a video of them fucking plays on TV.
Then we have the end.
Bruce dies by his own hand in both. On the page, sheer devastation. Like there I was on the toilet, staring balefully at the black and white, thinking yeah it had to happen but not like that. How it unfolds on the screen fits with the overall tone established by Baird and McAvoy but lacks the emotional impact.
And this is the fault of the director.
Bladesy boy is watching a video of Bruce--dashing in dress blues--doling out some fair yet loving advice to his mild-mannered friend, and it's possibly the most honest the asshole's been in years. Bruce is not trying to con his loyal pal, there's no gun to his head or anvil above it, and I should be wondering what's more riveting, watching him speak or watching Blades absorb his words, but I can't, because underneath it all is the crappest cover of "Creep" imaginable, done by two people who did not even deserve the Google search. Baird really fucked up here. Know what would have been better? "I Want To Know What Love Is." It's even mentioned in the book, Bruce loves that song. I love that song. Yeah, Baird really fucked up.
MIND THE GAP
In Bruce Roberston, Irvine Welsh created a cop not terribly dissimilar from Joseph Wambaugh's harshest (Roscoe Rules, Whitey Duncan, The Bad Czech). Certain police officers who grow so weary of swallowing surplus shit on the streets, they start to share it with the unsuspecting.
When Bruce is harassing a friendly homeless in one scene, then wasting breath on a dying man the very next, the juxtaposition of successful cruelty and failed heroics is not only startling, it's REAL. It's the sort of routine horror that occurs everyday, the whole world over. Another post entirely could have been dedicated to the deleterious effects of police work on such a twisted and raw individual as Bruce Robertson, or this quite sensitive man's struggle with societal mandates on masculinity.
But I'm drained enough as it is.
I recommend Filth in both of its forms (I am still opposed to teen alcoholism in all of its forms) but let me remind you--only one requires an oxygen mask and sanitary gloves.