Like a lost silent discovered in a trunk purchased at an estate sale, Filth feels like a perfectly preserved late-Nineties film. From the bigoted, corrupt, drug-addicted cop protagonist, the verbose voiceover narration, the stylistic bombast reminiscent of Trainspotting, and the costumes (half Seventies retro suits, half Edinburgh normcore), to the silly final plot twist and supercool nihilism, this one’s sure to delight the Tarantino set.
That’s not to say Filth is without merit. Like Danny Boyle’s celebrated foray into Irvine Welsh’s depraved universe, Filth’s Hobbesian take on human behavior rings true but is always writ large. Angling for a promotion during the ongoing investigation of a racially motivated murder, Robertson (a rakish James McAvoy) plays his co-workers (a closet Nazi, a closet homosexual, a closet drug addict, a doddering idiot, and a woman) off against each other, merrily sucking, fucking, brutalizing, and philosophizing along the way.
Sadly, writer-director Jon S. Baird has lost much of the ingenuity of Welsh’s 1998 source novel (namely, the tapeworm inside of Robertson that slowly gains sentience and begins interrogating him). What’s more, and criminally, he gives Robertson redeeming qualities. Aside from not being believable (“I heard you used to be a good person,” the female cop sadly intones), these modifications are simply beside the point. Robertson, like life, is nasty, brutish, and short.