I am in no way exaggerating or overextending my hand when I say that Filth has one of the greatest performances from an actor I have ever seen in my life. Keep in mind, I am inadequate to make this call for all films. Most of my childhood was spent watching PG movies, then after that I stayed up to date mostly with newer releases. Not many of these necessarily contain Oscar winning level performances. I can only speak to what I've seen. This out of the way, oh my God. . . James McAvoy performance in Filth is beyond phenomenal. Part of me doesn't want to give him too high of praise, in the the thought process that if you see it dear reader, you will have too high of expectations. Though, I don't think this is possible. While I have always liked James McAvoy from my first impressions of him in Narnia, and Becoming Jane; then onto Wanted and X-Men: First Class, I have never considered him a top 5 young actor working in the business today. This performance alone changed my mind. The depth and range of emotion are staggering. Two performances that come to mind have affected me this much, both of which came from Tom Hanks: Forrest Gump and Cast Away.
Before going any further, let me be clear that this film is definitely not for everyone. The short of it is that it is about a twisted cop in Scotland who is trying to get a promotion. To do this, he finds the most despicable things to do to better his chances getting the job. I would be more descriptive, but these forms of inappropriate conduct work better when seen in shock than talked about from a comfortable distance. All of these horrendous acts are showcased by the bloody brilliant James McAvoy.
This is a performance that could have easily gone wrong very quickly. Playing an alcoholic, drug addicted, foul mouthed, misogynistic, racist, bigoting, cruel, bastard (among other adjectives) of a cop could be offensive to a degree this film could not come back from. What James McAvoy does is give this character a real soul plagued with mental illness, and empathetic pain. So great and deep is the pain that James McAvoy displayed in this film that I couldn't help but reflect his sorrow. How is this even possible with someone so incredibly detestable? I'll tell you how - by playing the performance of a lifetime.
Sadly, this film is plagued with almost irredeemable flaws. To start, the pacing in the film, particularly the first half, is subpar at best. It is incredibly disjunctive, without any real flow. To be fair, the second half does bring in the reins of the film, and has an incredibly gutsy tonal shift, which I believe works. Though, this brings us to the end.
I would have loved this film, and forgiven any flaws, if not for the ending. SPOILER territory for the next highlighted paragraph is required to describe the depths of my sorrow.
What a stupid ending this was. This may be the least favorite ending I have ever seen.To have James McAvoy kill himself was a slap in the face to all the people who stuck through the bloody darkness of the film. I can understand wanting to be ballsy, but if you are going to do that, at least let it have some transcendent and deeper purpose. The only thing I can draw from it, is that life sucks, then it ends. At first I thought it might be something deeper, such as a cry out for all the people that are suffering with depression, mental illness, and suicidal tendencies. If this was the case, which I don't believe it is because there was nothing outside of speculation pointing towards this, they still could have done something different. Having him about to attempt suicide, then not going through with it and following it up by reaching out for help, showing him on the slow road to recovery could have been one out of a hundreds of things that they could have done instead of the crapping ending we got. I can understand wanting to stay close to source material, but even the way the suicide was done differently in the Irvine Welsh's book by the same name. What matters is making a great film that people can appreciate. Suicide aside, the extra ending of the cartoon animals doing comically obscene things for an extreme tonal shift as if to say everything is fine, was yet again another slap in the face for all the people who sat through this film. Paraphrasing expert film critic, Mark Kermode, it was along the lines of having ones head shoved in a toilet for the entirety of the film, without coming out for air at the ending.
This film is the greatest conundrum I have met so far. On one hand you have in my estimation one of the greatest performance I have ever seen in my life. On the other hand you have a film that, without James McAvoy, is not that great. Though, this performance cannot be ignored. I am not one hundred percent sure how nominations work for the Oscars as this film was released in 2013 in the UK, then released to us this year, which may or may not make it a foreign film allowing nominations for this year. Whatever it is, I can't overemphasize the impact of James McAvoy in Filth. I'm not yet comfortable saying this is the greatest acting performance I have ever seen. What I will say is that I'm not certain if I have ever seen better.
Personal Preference: 3.75/5
Critical Analysis: 3/5
P.S. If you are on the fence of seeing this, at least watch this clip which showcases some of his talent. Without giving much away, it is set right after James McAvoy is having a panic attack in which the death of someone he loved as a child is revealed in a hauntingly disturbing way. The full range of emotion he goes through is an awe to watch. He goes from terror, to anger, to sleaziness, back to anger, to gleeful bullying, to hatred, to shock, to regret, to sadness, to confusion intermixed with despair, back to hatred. Yeah, I know. I've probably watched it too many times. Fair warning, there is quite a bit of language. Enjoy.