I’ve been waiting for James McAvoy to make good on his promising start since 2006, but sadly I have yet to see him get the accolades and projects worthy of his talent. The thing is, I don’t think many people really know who he is. Despite having been in that Narnia series and despite having headlined some popular films (like X-Men), the majority of the world is unfamiliar with his name. This is sad, because McAvoy displayed such thick character development in ‘The Last King of Scotland’, and while Whitaker had the flashiest character, it was McAvoy who deserved the accolades that Whitaker received.
‘Filth’ is not going to change McAvoy’s popularity, mostly because half of the known world will not see it, but it is further proof of the fact that McAvoy deserves a better career.
Why is someone like Ryan Reynolds a household name but James McAvoy is known as “that guy who plays Charles Xavier”?
James McAvoy is indeed on FIRE as Bruce Robertson, the coke snorting, philandering, prank calling, devious cop hoping for a promotion we all know he doesn’t deserve. He’ll do anything to get it though, even if it means destroying the reputations of his fellow colleagues. Whether he’s challenging his so-called friends to a measuring contest, blackmailing minors into giving him favors or prank calling a friend’s wife, Bruce is also self-purposing and always self-damaging. The thing is, there is a darker backstory that is causing all this outlandish behavior, and soon Bruce is going to crack under the pressure.
The main issues with ‘Filth’ lie in the film’s construction. It is just tonally off. The film is in one part a black comedy and in the other a dire drama, and the two ends don’t meet comfortably. Irvine Welsh is not an easy writer. His style is one that is exploitive and harsh and yet carries a humor that is needed to cut all the tension. Danny Boyle knew how to blend those worlds harmoniously, giving us a pretty stellar film in ‘Trainspotting’, back in 1996. Sadly, ‘Filth’ doesn’t balance those two ends fluidly. Instead, it tries to give us two separate films. The first half is rather brilliant. The dark comedy angle serves a strong purpose and gives McAvoy and the rest of the cast something to sink their teeth into. The second half (or final act, more specifically) delves so far away from the comedy and into a more severe tone that it feels off and takes us out of the film. It almost feels too serious, to the point where it becomes unintentionally funny, which isn’t what you want from a film like this.
That being said, McAvoy is brilliant and it is a shame that this won’t garner him any awards traction at the end of the year. The film is simply too small and too harsh for anyone to single it out. The rest of the cast, especially Jamie Bell, is also up to the task and handles the material well, but this is the McAvoy show from start to finish.
I give this a B-. I do feel like some of the symbolism here is also muddled and could have used some fleshing out, but overall this is at least an engaging and effective film. This will go nowhere near Oscar, as I mentioned, but hopefully someone somewhere will give McAvoy a nomination. He worked his ass off for it!