James McAvoy in Filth (Magnolia Pictures)
One of my personal favorite sub-genres is the good ol’ “cop gone wild” flick. Prime examples of this stripe include Abel Ferrara’s classic Bad Lieutenant, Werner Herzog’s even crazier remake The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans and Oren Moverman’s woefully underseen Rampart. Though all these films present a unique take on the material, they share in common a central focus on an officer of the law losing his mind and falling into an ever-deeper spiral of drugs, sex and violence. The newest entry into this collection, 2013’s Filth manages to switch up the formula by virtue of being set in contemporary Scotland and introducing an American Psycho-esque psychological component to the proceedings.
The plot concerns Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a police sergeant in Edinburgh, as he trawls the underground looking for leads regarding the murder of a Japanese student. Bruce is motivated solely by fierce, selfish careerism and regularly sabotages his well-meaning peers and co-workers via cruel pranks and Machiavellian manipulations that he calls “the games.” Meanwhile, he imbibes a steady flow of booze and coke and feverishly pursues loose sex with prostitutes, all in a deranged attempt to nullify the scars of his early childhood trauma.
Now, all that is par for the course for one of these flicks, but things start getting really weird when Robertson begins suffering intense psychedelic hallucinations and cross-dressing in his ex-wife’s clothing. To explain why these things happen would be to ruin the film’s gut-punch, but to suffice it to say: There’s a good reason, and it’s rather odd.
Based on a novel by brilliant Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, Filth is adapted and directed with smart pizzaz by unknown Jon S. Baird, who puts to good use the crumbling urban decay of Edinburgh. The always-smashing McAvoy gives an off-type and off-the-wall performance as Robertson, and he’s given a solid sparring partner in his feisty police psychiatrist Dr. Rossi, played by the excellent Jim Broadbent. In addition, young Jamie Bell solidifies his complete 180 from the Billy Elliot days with an excellent, smoldering turn as Robertson’s young rival Ray.
Filth apparently did solid business across the pond, but it never saw wide release stateside. As such, now’s your chance to check out this dirty little gem as it arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray. Special features include the perfunctory audio commentary with the director and Welsh, deleted scenes and a reel of sure-to-be-wacky outtakes. Overall, though this film doesn’t quite break the mold of its niche genre, it definitely delivers on the always-entertaining promise of watching an officer of the law go positively bonkers.