FILTH Review

     May 30, 2014


Addiction can be used as a way to mask a deeper pain.  The addict can disappear into a drug-induced haze, and find a brief reprieve before real life comes crashing back in, and there’s a need for a bigger fix.  Filth follows suit, but instead of using drugs to mask pain, it uses drugs to mask a shallow story and weak jokes.  Writer-director Jon S. Baird has plenty of tricks: breaking the fourth wall, throwing up graphics, frenetic cinematography, etc.  He also has a great cast willing to give it their all, but nothing can compensate for a tedious picture that thinks it’s more aggressive and exciting than it actually is.  Only near the very end does its constant posturing prove to have a semblance of a point.

Detective Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a whoring, duplicitous, high-functioning drug addict who’s angling for a promotion.  If he manages to solve a high-profile murder case, the promotion shouldn’t be a problem, but he’s too caught up in his extra-circular activities—screwing a colleague’s wife, messing with his co-workers, prank calling his friend’s wife, and other assorted nonsense ranging from the innocuous like masturbating in the restroom to the truly horrid like coercing oral sex from an underage girl (the age of consent is 18, but she’s 16, so to Baird, this is just another transgression that doesn’t need to be referenced or mentioned ever again).  But beneath all of Bruce’s wretched deeds, there’s lots of guilt and it’s causing him to slowly lose his sanity.


There’s no real freedom or energy to Bruce’s actions because the script is so calculated.  The edginess is a dull blade because it’s relying on clumsily executed gimmicks to balance the raunchy with the “heartfelt”.  Baird is ham-fisted when it comes to trying to give Bruce “redemptive” values, and this apology further diminishes any offensive the film may intend.  Whenever we see a flash of Bruce’s depressing past, the film may as well put up a big sign saying “NOT A TOTAL SHIT”.  The movie can’t own what’s its trying to peddle, and what it’s trying to peddle was already cheap.

I have no problem with dark, raunchy comedy.  When it’s well done, I love it.  But everything in Filth rings hollow.  It wears a veneer of cool, but comes off like third-rate Guy Ritchie, and I say that as someone who doesn’t think Guy Ritchie is a mind-blowing filmmaker.  If you’re going to rely almost entirely on style, it better be bright and shiny enough to be entertaining, and Baird doesn’t have the skill to pull it off.  Instead, he only offers jarring tonal shifts, false tenderness, and a total waste of a talented cast that also includes Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, and Jim Broadbent.  Everyone is giving it their all, and it’s almost all for naught.


Near the end of the picture, Filth starts to make a bit of sense.  If everything that came before hadn’t been an utter chore, the story would be pretty rewarding.  The film starts to seize on the notion of differentiating between what’s distasteful and what’s truly ugly.  For example, we see how Bruce’s coke addiction is unsavory but his superior officer’s homophobia is horrid.  However, the film is so weak that the theme never coalesces into something powerful.  Neither does the twist that turns what felt like empty posturing into something that may have been intentional.  It’s the equivalent of stumbling to the ground, striking your face into the pavement, looking up with a bloody nose, and saying, “I meant to do that!”

I was surprised I almost started to feel something other than boredom as Filth came to a close.  It wasn’t for the maudlin bullshit masquerading as depth, but a wistfulness for what could have been.  Baird never manages to make his film as bold or brash as it needs to be, and instead of something genuinely filthy and thoughtful, Filth is just a mess.

Rating: D


  • Marissa Evans

    Too bad, I was intrigued. I may see it anyway.

    • Redjester

      I’d suggest you still see it. Too many reviewers seem to confuse a film making them feel dirty with a film being of poor quality. A little ridiculous if I do say so myself. Not every film has to make you feel good leaving the theater (‘Requiem for a Dream’ is case-in-point).

      Most of the top reviewers gave it a ‘thumbs up’ for a reason. Having seen it myself, I thought McAvoy was utterly riveting in the role and that it is worth seeing for that reason alone.

      • Redtford

        This film is absolutely worth seeing- its not great, its not trainspotting even though people seem to like to think that it is trying to be. Its the same writer, same train of thought, of course there will be similarities but it is way different and worth watching for McAvoy, Bell, and Marsan.

  • Dan

    I enjoyed it for McAvoy’s performance. I found his portrayal of mental illness surprisingly affecting despite all the despicable character traits, loose threads and flimsy comedy. (Also, spelling note, the second paragraph should say “extra-curricular” rather than “extra-circular”).

  • Redjester

    McAvoy is a ridiculously underrated talent and is at his best here. Many of the greatest performances in cinema are within the confines of otherwise mediocre films, and that is certainly the case here as this is not in any way a horrible film as Matt would have you believe, just a really mediocre one made better by an exceptional performance.

    In my humble opinion, the movie is worth watching for McAvoy’s performance alone.

    FYI, ‘Filth’ is currently at 67% Fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes.

  • randommale7

    I saw it last year and really liked it, liked it more than Dom Hemingway which I thought was just average…

  • RD

    I think this film is getting lost in a cultural translation. This is not a film that is trying to shock the viewer as a cheap gimmick to try and get bums on seats. Instead it exploring the the complete mental breakdown of a very bleak character. That is why James McAvoy did this film, he wouldn’t go near it if it was so cheap in its approach. I am not sure how much experience that this reviewer has with with mental illness or of certain facets of society that struggle with addiction, but from his review I guess it is little. He has completely missed the essence of the film. Any bets he adored Silver Lining Playbook, a lovely Hollywood film tackling the problem of bipolar disorder in a feel good way. It had beautiful performances that got Oscar nominations, and we all go away feeling happy at the end of that film. I ask you, does Silver Lining Playbook capture the realties of bipolar disorder?…It sure as hell doesn’t!! Filth is far superior film to convey to audiences the rollercoaster of bipolar disorder, however to do that you have to ride the vulger, the inappropriate, the outrageous. You won’t come away feeling good, but you will come away with a better understanding of what bipolar disorder can do to someone, at least in a metaphorical sense that film provides. The film is not perfect, they had to cobble together funds to even make it, so it disappointing to read such an I’ll considered review on film that is actually educatee effectively through a price of entertainment.

    • Matt Goldberg

      I know people with bipolar disorder. This is not bipolar disorder. And if they were attempting to convey bipolar disorder, they failed miserably because his mental problems could easily be chalked up to drug addiction, guilt, and grief. People suffering from these ailments are not automatically “bipolar”.

      • ged

        and if you don’t have biopolar disorder please don’t act like you know what your talking about. thanks.

      • The Flobbit

        James MacAvoy HIMSELF, on Bruce’s bipolarism: “I do think he’s had his life in order at times, but it I think he’s prone to bipolarism and his alcohol abuse and his drug abuse haven’t helped it, his split personality disorder is kind of a result of his narcotics abuse and his alcohol abuse on top of I think a natural leaning toward bipolarism anyway.”

      • terry

        Certain contributors to this site have become so arrogant in their opinions that it is taking all the fun out of coming here. Frosty seems to still be true to the idea, but some of the others… just wow.

      • Matt Goldberg

        This may come as a surprise to you, but McAvoy didn’t write or direct the movie. Furthermore, just because they talk about bipolarism, that doesn’t mean they’ve successfully portrayed it.

      • The Flobbit

        This may come as a surprise to YOU, but MacAvoy is an ACTOR, who interprets a character with a DIRECTOR and a WRITER. These people do a little something called “research”, and believe it or not, there are many different types of bipolarism, and I don’t give a damn whether they “sucessfully portrayed it or not”.

        Bruce is bipolar. MacAvoy said it. It’s good enough for me.

      • RD

        Again your missing the point Matt, I am not saying they were conveying bipolar disorder, the film acts as a metaphor for bipolar disorder order and addiction. It can’t reflect bipolar disorder for all facets of society, be it cultural or class, because how people experience and deal with it will differ across social background. This is why I think you miss the essence of the film as you are from a different culture.In addition, people will vary in their extremes depending on the level of their problem. The character was designed as having bipolar disorder. He is also embedded with a certain culture and time where mental illness is somewhat of a taboo subject. Men in Scotland aren’t exactly renowned for there admittance to mental illness and will result to alcohol in particular to self medicate the condition. The film captures this cultural aspect, the character finds it hard to admit to his problems and instead he battles it with drugs, alcohol and his continued subordination of others, women, men and children alike. This is what makes him feel better, but it is only a short term fix as he spirals out of control. This is a far more complicated and thought provoking film than your review suggests. But you are not alone as I have read others reviewing who have missed these elements. They focus on comparisons to Trainspotting which I think is redicolous and lazy critiquing. Its a great film, with an incredible performance, but its is uncomfortable, and it is this uncomfortable element that acts as a metopher for bipolar disorder for those who haven’t experienced within themselves.

      • Matt Goldberg

        I’ve seen addiction portrayed in countless other movies. Filth isn’t breaking new ground, and part of what makes it so obnoxious is that it thinks it’s more transgressive than it really is.

        And McAvoy’s performance isn’t uncomfortable. It’s obfuscated by a director who is, at best, stepping on his own foot.

  • Sam

    Sorry Matt. I fail to agree to with you on this.
    Liked the movie and Mcavoy was sensational.

  • Film Fan

    Having read the book and watched the film, I agree that their are weaknesses in the script but not nearly as bad as this review claims. The book is actually much darker with an explanation near the very end that Bruce Robertson was schizophrenic and his childhood was much worse than depicted in the film. The drugs were the result of self-medication and not the reason for his behavior. It appears that the writer / director was trying to avoid having the film be a discussion about mental health in general (like it is in the comments) and instead concentrated on one person’s spiral into madness.

    Also the book was written in the late 90′s when the public’s reaction to homophobia and understanding of mental illness was much different than today. The film is not explicitly set in that time-period but it is also not present day. This limbo does create shock for today’s audiences who have become better informed in the past 15 years and expect more PC performances.

    I’m an American woman, so I’m watching it with the same “values” (for lack of a better word) as probably most of the target audience of this review. I find the current trend of raunchy US films justified as “boys will be boys” more offensive than any of the vulgarities in Filth.

    I thought McAvoy’s performance fantastic and worthy of the awards that he has already received. He was correct when he predicted that people would love it or hate it. Too bad Matt is in the latter group because I loved it, if only for McAvoy’s performance. I think it will go on to become a cult classic.

  • Beatific

    I thought it was a good film. McAvoy is great in it. The age of consent in Scotland is 16.

    • Pk

      Ah you are referring to mcavoys character having sex with a teenager

      • Beatific

        Matt’s review says the age of consent is 18, it’s 16.

      • Matt Goldberg

        Still icky.

  • Colin Christian

    It’s worth seeing for McAvoy alone,he is astonishing in the role,it’s pretty wild stuff,I would give it a B- ,but James gets an A

  • matt

    Rating: D. Yeah sure.Not great but very, very good. Dark, crazy, real movie.Rating: D. Yeah sure.

  • Matt Goldberg

    Mitch, in case you were wondering why you’re banned and your comment was deleted, it’s not because you disagreed with my opinion. It’s because you were so stupid that you thought you could call me a “snarky cunt” and I would let that stand for some reason.

  • Redjester

    Haha, well I’m glad it’s not because he disagreed (Because I do that a lot)!

    Note to those who like to hang out at a particular website, if you want to continue to enjoy that privilege, don’t call the staff of the site a ‘snarky c*nt’.

    Should be obvious, really…

  • Matt Goldberg

    Quite a vocabulary you have there.