Like The Wolf of Wall Street, Filth (based on the Irvine Welsh book) features a boyish leading man in a spectacular performance as a drug-enhanced (and later -addled) Machiavelli. Vial after vial of cocaine goes up high-functioning cop Bruce Robertson’s (James McAvoy in, to use a magazine cliche, the performance of his career) nose as he manipulates, bullies, womanizes and pranks his way through life just because he can, or so it seems.
What starts off as a fun, escapist romp—nicely buoyed by McAvoy’s almost-innocent schoolyard bully manner, which somehows keeps his antics from tipping over into standard villainy—suddenly swerves into dark territory as Robertson’s severe hallucinations creep up on and eventually take over his reality, forcing the audience face-to-face with some extremely ugly scenes of a broken psyche, the worst of which is when he ruins his hapless friend Clifford (Eddie Marsan, who plays the loser archetype with subtlety).
Possibly the most impressive aspect of Filth is the confidence of newcomer Jon S. Baird at its helm. It’s a real ride from start to finish, with extreme close-ups, rapid-fire dialogues and spot-the-homage cinematic maneouvres. Even the score toys with the audience: Stirring strings violently segue into ironic song-and-dance numbers. Not everything is handled with finesse—the Terry Gilliam-esque hallucination scenes are terrible—but Baird, like the much weightier Martin Scorcese with Wolf, gleefully shoves it all in your face, whether you like it or not. (We do.)