Jon S. Baird’s film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Filth is finally out in the U$A, on demand as of today, and getting what looks like a very limited theatrical release on May 30. It’s pathetic that this award winning film isn’t getting a wider release in America, and that it took so long to find a distributor in the first place.
For what it lacks in visual style and cinematography (despite all the Kubrick references and some Trainspotting style), the film makes up for in chaos and characterization. It isn’t as extreme as the novel. It isn’t “ghastly and unpleasant” as one reviewer put it. It isn’t as willing to take risks as the novel. But the script does make some wild and intelligent choices in adaptation.
James McAvoy is the real engine of the film. He has the suffering intensity of Michael Fassbender in Hunger combined with the gleeful insanity of Malcolm McDowell in Caligula. He looks like he put his soul into the performance and maybe even taken some years off his life in the process.
The script is better than the direction. Baird parses it down and makes the right decisions. He embraces the chaotic self-destruction but tames it down and stylizes it. It’s not a bad approach. He just doesn’t go far enough. The climactic ending, however, is beautifully twisted and worth the price of admission alone.
Filth was considered unfilmable. It’s one of the few novels I have ever stopped reading mid-way through. The protagonist is totally unredeemable and Welsh’s talent at eliciting disgust is in high gear in this story. The novel actually made me feel dirty—a pretty impressive feat in my case. In other words, it’s pretty good. If you think the film is extreme, though, try the novel.