Back in 2001, my dad introduced me to a mini-series that I watched religiously for many years. That mini-series was HBO's "Band of Brothers" which I can only describe as "Saving Private Ryan" with steroids. In fact, if you put someone in a room with both "Band of Brothers" and "Saving Private Ryan," showed him or her random scenes from both stories and asked to match the scene to the story, they would probably fail. "Band of Brothers" had a massive cast over its eight or so episodes, and I remember the episode that featured James McAvoy. McAvoy only appeared in one episode and he played the typical nice-and-shy new guy who was killed off before the episode reached its half-way mark. I always found it surprising that his small presence paved a career that became bigger than nearly everyone else involved in that show, including most of the main players.
Ever since seeing "Band of Brothers" I have studied McAvoy's career. I don't know what anybody saw in his brief moment on that mini-series, but McAvoy has launched an interesting career since. That interest continues with "Filth," a wild ride of a cop comedy which slowly and systematically runs off the rails. "Filth" feels like a mixture between "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." It is headlined by another masterful performance by McAvoy as well as Jaime Bell, Imogen Poots, Eddie Marsen, Jim Broadbent and Gary Lewis. The film is best when it is in its early stages. The film packs lots of laughs and genuine style within its first hour and twenty minutes.
McAvoy plays Bruce Robertson who has been a successful policemen within the Scottish department. There is a big promotion coming, a Detective Inspector promotion to be exact and Robertson plans to win it in a heartbeat. Robertson is scheming and manipulative and uses relationships and his badge with insidious glee. He spends his free time drinking alcohol, taking drugs and having shameless affairs with a variety of prostitutes. Will he get the promotion? Not if he can't keep his truly strange hallucinations under-wraps, as well as his bipolar disorder.
So yes, "Filth" is stylish and the amount of laughs had my tummy aching for minutes on end. McAvoy is creating a filmography that is tasteful and plentiful. He is an actor who has been able to avoid the typecast and he can reshape his career at will. He's a guy I would have never expected for a young Charles Xavier, which is probably why he was perfect for the role. Imogen Poots does strong work and I think she continues to grow as an actress. Jim Broadbent is...Jim Broadbent, which is not a slam of any kind. I love watching him throw-down in a movie, and he certainly does just that. The film is full of rich performances, just as it is full of startling images. How these two ingredients clash together is truly remarkable and amazing.
My only hang-up is that by the film's ending, it feels like a completely different movie. I really enjoyed the first hour or so of "Filth" because I liked just how joyfully it blended comedy and bizarre imagery. Then, by the end of the movie, it is an all-out drama. There are some big choices made at the end of the movie, and while I didn't see them coming, they felt out of place and out of context of the rest of the film. I don't think it works if you make a film that feels like comedy, then at the drop of a dime, turn into a gritty drama. It also doesn't help to throw a final wink-wink at the very end of the movie for no good reason. There were lots of odd choices made in the last half of the movie, which is why I couldn't hand myself over to it like I wanted.
No matter what I say, "Filth" is worth at least a look, and it is available currently on Netflix. If you like your cinema with a slight hint of the strange, "Filth" is worth checking out. If you like watching great British actor do their magic, "Filth" is worth checking out. If you are kean of laughter, "Filth" is worth checking out. However, if you don't like the sudden left-turn into un-needed territory, you end up just as disappointed as I was.
Oh, and Iain De Caestecker? The actor who plays Fitz on ABC's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?" He's in this, and watching Fitz get interrogated by Professor X is also worth checking out.
FINAL GRADE: B