Filth has been sold as one of the most offensive movies made in recent years. It tells the story of a 70s police detective (James McAvoy) who wants a promotion and makes it his mission to solve a case while at the same time making his fellow cops seem incompetent and/or corrupt. There are plenty of incompetent characters in this police comedy, but the most corrupt is McAvoy’s alcoholic, pervert who calls the wife of a friend (a breathy Shirley Henderson) in order to masturbate and has a dark secret life connected to the end of his marriage and loss of his child (although hints that there is something tragic is never fully explored).
Filth is a frustrating exercise in a movie being “offensive” and “shocking” as the primarily selling point. It has become a real problem in comedies, from mainstream Hollywood films such as Neighbors to this new film. Yes, there is something interesting for a movie to be completely uninhibited and risky. But at this point, the claim that a movie is offensive is no longer a selling point, and when a movie also fails to be funny, the crutch of that is more noticeable…and even more frustrating. There are moments when outrageous humor truly does strike the funny bone (one only needs to watch the recent Alan Patridge). But Filth never really made me laugh, which for a comedy film (at least for the first part) is a pretty big problem. And then the film becomes just a dark exploration of a man’s complete breakdown.
Our apathy toward McAvoy’s character seems to be to be intentional, and he is very good giving that kind of performance. And most of the actors in Filth are very good, particularly Imogene Poots and Jamie Bell as fellow cops of questionable morals. And the movie certainly has a gritty look and soundtrack which elevates the film beyond the filth. But these performances and shallow yet stylish look don’t save a film which never goes beyond the gimmick of being shocking to engage the mind or heart so the experience of watching this film seems worth the effort.
Watch the Filth Film