James McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, a Detective Sergeant in Edinburgh that is determined to gain promotion to Detective Inspector. Unfortunately for him, his dependence on drugs and alcohol, his bigoted nature, his deteriorating mental health and his ever-expanding web of deceit may prove to be a hindrance to this particular career move. Adding to all that, his wife and daughter are strangely missing from his life.

McAvoy gives one of his best performances as one of the most politically incorrect, offensive, drug abusive cops this side of Harvey Keitel’s turn in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. Repellent, yet strangely charismatic, Sergeant Robertson is an insane creation. Whether he’s setting up his fellow police officers to fail, harassing his co-worker’s wife, or just being an all out maniac, it quickly becomes obvious that we’re about to be spending time with one unstable man.

Filth is based on Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name. No surprise there, considering that he also wrote Trainspotting, another drug-obsessed study of the depraved and desperate. The film is proudly and incessantly twisted, and it’s very funny. A drug-induced descent into insanity and self annihilation that manages to be very entertaining, if a little aimless.


There are some serious issues explored in the midst of the chaos. Robertson’s deteriorating state has something to do with his past, which the film hints at throughout the film. Jim Broadbent gives an entertaining turn as Dr. Rossi, a psychiatrist that reveals Robertson’s many problems through dream-like exchanges. These dramatic themes – dealing with guilt, bipolar disorders and repressed memories – add welcome layers to the film, but they aren’t explored enough. Not that it affects the film too much, as it happily delivers one amusingly depraved scene after another.

Writer/director Jon S. Baird concocts a film that is almost like a cinematic equivalent of a drug “trip”. At first, Filth is entertaining, even fun. Then the hallucinations kick in and it becomes strange, but still attractive. By the time the insane peak comes along, you’re not too sure of how rewarding an experience this has turned out to be. Either way, it’s been one hell of a ride.