Review: ‘Filth’ presents a bad detective you’ve already seen before

James McAvoy plays a detective on the edge in the film of Irivine Welsh's "Filth." Credit: Magnolia Pictures
James McAvoy plays a detective on the edge in the film of Irivine Welsh’s “Filth.”
Credit: Magnolia Pictures

‘Filth’
Director: Jon S. Baird
Stars: James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Released in the wake of “Pulp Fiction” mania, the brash, snide 1996 film of Irvine Welsh’s “Trainspotting” was never a landmark. But like the Tarantino monster, it inspired more than its share of dire copycats. A wave of funny-dark comedies about the U.K.’s (and sometimes America’s) most debauched crashed into art house theaters. “Filth” feels like one of those, even if it shouldn’t: It’s based on another Welsh novel and has waited two decades for the fecund odor of “Trainspotting” to disappear.

It even tries to be different. For one thing, it’s not exactly empathetic with its protagonist. Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a remorseless bad detective in Edinburgh, who enjoys propositioning sex from 16 year olds, bullying his connected friend (Eddie Marsan), drugging himself into a psychedelic dreamscape and other things seen in every movie about lawless law enforcers ever made. This movie has been made before, in fact many, many times before, and the fact that it was made in 2014 doesn’t make it any more fresh.

What does it make it slightly almost-fresh — like a cheese that’s only gone somewhat, salvageably moldy — is the glee with which it’s been made. Director Jon S. Baird may channel every filmmaker who’s ever used whiplash montages, loud music cues and cheeky narration. But he seems to genuinely be having as much fun as his monstrous anti-hero. This isn’t a dark comedy; it’s a comedy that happens to be about dark things. It’s filmmaking with a big, stupid grin on its face. Not that all of its joys are transgressive in nature: One of funnier bits finds Robertson messing with his colleagues over who gets a promotion.

The good times, of course, can’t last, because they never do. Sure enough, Robertson has a sad secret in his past, just waiting to come out, and once it does, the fun does indeed end. The fact that this isn’t “Trainspotting 2” — though Welsh has written that novel — does wind up serving to show “Trainspotting”’s many secret strengths. That film genuinely liked its characters, or some of them. The violence, the few times it actually occurred, was real and uncontainable, not cartoonish. And Danny Boyle’s keyed-up direction wasn’t just about acceleration and cool images, but never forgot that its characters felt most at home in true grime, and felt most alien when cleaned-up and zombified. If someone else had made “Trainspotting,” it would have probably looked like “Filth,” and the world would be poorer for it.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

3 things we learned about the Giants in…

The Giants claimed the Snoopy trophy in a battle of MetLife Stadium tenants Friday night. But more importantly, the offense finally showed some life in…

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

Wellbeing

Asics is giving away free gear around NYC…

Asics wants to see you on the court - and in the stands for the U.S. Open, which begins Monday - by giving away free…

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…