James McAvoy, more fun than Keitel, less fun than Cage. This remake of “Bad Lieutenant” adds some Scots accents and lowlifes, but it’s pretty much the same as the last one with Nic Cage. Who was, frankly, way more fun. McAvoy is grungy as all get-out, looks like he reeks, needs a shave and does a lot of snorting, pill-popping and carrying-on with loose women and erotic strangulation. But does he ever enjoy any of this?
A fixture of drug movies seems to be that nobody enjoys doing the drugs anyway. So why bother? If drinking yourself blind and snorting powder makes you just increasingly more miserable, maybe, I dunno, find religion or go skydiving? Anyway, James McAvoy has just an awful time to start with, and by the almost end, he’s hallucinating his head off. All Bad Lieutenants do that, though.
Keitel, nuns, religious imagery, Catholic guilt. Easy peasey. Cage, reptiles of various descriptions. Pretty funny, especially combined with Cage’s patented hamminess. McAvoy sees pig-monsters and witches, both seemingly from a Christmas pantomime, and they’re not a patch on Nic Cage’s iguanas. They don't even smoke.
A bunch of excellent British faces round out the melodrama, best of them being Jim Broadbent, who enlivens just about any picture he’s in. Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Eddie Marsan, John Sessions….you could make a good movie with these people and skip the McAvoy part entirely. Do a workplace black comedy.
As is, there’s an irrelevant murder, a lot of reasonably enjoyable squalid situations and some pleasant hijinx as McAvoy attempts to sabotage his co-workers’ chances of promotion. And all that breath play. All good fun. But then we, and McAvoy, have to do the downward spiral into mental breakdown. Nic Cage did it funnier. Harvey Keitel did it gut-wrenchingly and unpleasantly. McAvoy did it so we’re glancing at our watches and thinking “get on with it, then”. And then suddenly, a full-on Brian DePalma crossdressing bit that, I admit, does come out of nowhere. Cue the lowlifes! The beat-down! The defenestration!
Finally, our man Bruce hits rock bottom, and then there’s a dreadful fifteen minutes of redemption arc that completely abandon the black comedy tone set previously. The director did not know when to say “That’s a wrap, people!” Seriously, the last part belongs in some other movie, because at this point, we do not feel McAvoy’s pain from his childhood trauma, we just think, “We get it, creep, we get it.” Maybe suicide is the answer. A couple of people McAvoy has wronged get improbably righted in clichéd scenes. The auto-asphyxiation (is it still “auto” when you have your partner do it for you?) card is played again. A weird but nicely drawn animated cartoon (a “what th’?” moment tacked on if ever there was) and credits!
“Filth” is short, which is good, competently filmed if you like that slice of life grimy, gritty, slimy and gross sort of realism, the accents are not impenetrably thick. It’s just that this story has been told and this retelling doesn’t add much beyond recreational strangulation (wouldn’t it leave hard-to-explain marks?) and the Worst Psychiatrist in Scotland. If you’ve got an hour and a half to fill on the elliptical, it’s not boring, most of the time. And a trip to Hamburg’s less scenic side is always fun. And the sleaze, Moe, the sleaze! You can't have too much sleaze!