filth1[xrr rating=1.0/5]Filth is what happens when someone watches Bad Lieutenant and wishes that the moral exorcism hadn’t intruded upon all those fun scenes of a dirty cop satiating his disgusting id. The film barely even gets started before it tries to one-up one of the more infamous scenes of Ferrara’s movie: Det. Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) doesn’t just jerk off in front of underaged girls, he makes one give him a blowjob to keep her sex life secret from her lawyer father.

Robertson’s activities only get more demented from there. He boozes and pops pills, natch, but also devises sadistic games to ruin the reputations and lives of those around him for his own advancement, and often just for the fun of it. As he and other detectives vie for a promotion, Robertson intimates details of a metrosexual detective’s (Emun Elliott) supposed homosexuality; plays on the insecurities of another’s (Jamie Bell) poor endowment; screws a colleague’s wife (Kate Dickie); and just generally wreaks havoc with his co-workers’ lives as they try to solve a murder without his help. He even decides to mess with the marriage of a sweet, wealthy but timid friend (Eddie Marsan) by phoning his wife (Shirley Henderson) as a pervert to drive her mad.

Robertson fancies himself an Iago, surreptitiously pulling the rug out from everyone before rushing up and asking if they saw who committed this mean deed. But his meddling is so obvious that when people don’t catch on, it speaks less to their gullibility than to how the story simply requires that they not see what they, in other places, make plain they have known all along. Based on an Irvine Welsh book, Filth is chained to manic displays that lay out every emotion the protagonist is meant to be feeling at any given time in blunt exchanges, endless soliloquies in brogue that aim for Nietzsche but wind up somewhere closer to a vulgarian Dan Brown.

McAvoy throws himself into the part, just as everyone around him must rise nearer his level less they be left below, out of frame. He plays Robertson as if the detective could see the camera and demands its attention, lurching toward it to frame himself in close-ups. He smiles less like a human than an ape, flashing teeth as a warning signal of impending attack. Bug-eyed and spittle-flecked, McAvoy’s Robertson certainly cannot be accused of failing to operate at the speed the material demands of him, but that also robs Robertson of any real arc. Oh, Filth has its share of narrative twists, but McAvoy works at such a constant state of haggard, drugged-out exhaustion that his eventual breakdown is visible from his first moment on-screen instead of a process of self-realization.

Like a Scottish Palahniuk, Irvine Welsh is tediously and erroneously taken with the idea that a fixation on chemical and psychological self-mutilation is the key to portraying humanity at its most honesty and unself-conscious. But Palahniuk at least aspires, however obliviously, to the realm of social commentary; Filth, like Trainspotting before it, adds dashes of local color but boils down to a morally simplistic fable, here swapping anti-drug PSA for a far more abhorrent faux-sympathy for mental illness, complete with a stereotypical linking of that illness to gender “confusion.” And at least Danny Boyle’s Welsh adaptation aesthetically pursued the author’s mad prose with every trick in the book. Writer-director Jon S. Baird is no Danny Boyle, a statement I never thought could be used as anything other than reassurance. His idea of a demented visual reflection of Robertson’s inner life is simply to have everything constantly overlit. Filth has far worse issues, but this overreliance on blinding light summarizes its flaws nicely: when the whole thing resembles a hangover from the start, you can’t get lost in the drunken debauchery first.

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