Edinburgh is in the middle of a red carpet moment – Grassmarket and Victoria Street are the silver screen stars of two recent releases. Yet the Scottish setting of Filth, James McAvoy’s latest exploit, may as well be a different world entirely for all it resembles the singing, sunny streets in Sunshine on Leith. There is no sunshine in this gritty piece. If the feel good factor of Dexter Fletcher’s ‘500 Miles’ finale is that of an Arthur’s Seat picnic on an unexpectedly unclouded day, then Filth is a 5am barefoot stumble home alone, after a night in the Hive. A night mainly spent within a toilet cubicle. This plot is conceived from the same mind as Trainspotting, and it somewhat tells; Filth is filthy.
The term ‘exploit’ is an apt one for this film. It is a feat, both of filmmaking and acting. The scenes freewheel through inner thoughts, dream sequences, hallucinations and drug fuelled hazes. It is darkly hilarious and desperately dark. Nothing is ever certain, or seems stable – the film reels, often leaving the viewer dizzy and nauseous. This cinematic instability is also apt, as James McAvoy, with extraordinary power and pathos, portrays a supremely unstable character. Violent, misogynistic, alcoholic, drug addicted and psychologically damaged, Bruce Robertson is a character so flawed and twisted it is as if he has been gripped from the insides and wrenched in all directions. By the halfway mark, let alone the closing, McAvoy looks thoroughly wrung out. His recognisable baby face features do not hold him back from this 38 year old act; at times he looks closer to 50.
This role and this film in general holds no punches. Starting with corrupt cops on coke and spiralling into depths so dark they can make you feel physically dirty (an apparently frequent morning routine for Robertson involves waking up in his car seat, lighting up, taking a couple of swigs of vodka, throwing up and doing a couple of lines off his inspector’s wallet) It is unsurprising McAvoy anticipated audience members walking out of screenings. Yet, while the film becomes increasingly traumatising, it also becomes increasingly magnificent. Bruce’s personality and psychological flaws scream from the screen, but the film itself is close to flawless. This is a master class in acting and, despite the sickening aftertaste it leaves, a masterpiece.