James McAvoy will be in one of the biggest films of the summer reprising his role as Charles Xavier in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” but it’s a little British indie that is the real feather in the actors cap. McAvoy gives a career turn in “Filth” that proves more impressive than any mind-wielding powers he has as Professor X. He pulls a superhero feat of his own, single-handedly raising writer/director Jon S. Baird’s dark comedy beyond its initial potential.
From author Irvine Welsh, who also wrote “Trainspotting,” “Filth” follows a depraved detective (McAvoy), who will stop at nothing to achieve the big promotion in his department, but his personal flaws begin to wreak havoc on him and threaten his goal.
“Filth” and “Trainspotting” are similar in that they get us to enjoy the worst antics of their anti-heroes but also show them at their lowest points and create sympathy for these wretched souls. McAvoy is exceptional as a total wanker, a change of pace for the actor, but he really shines as his character crashes down hard and fast.
Off-putting from the get go, McAvoy is able to make this complex performance entertaining, disgusting and surprisingly pitying. The actor has already been well rewarded for his performance in Britain with multiple best actor wins from the British Independent Film Awards and the London Critics Circle.
Credit must also be given to Baird, who effectively guided the audience through McAvoy’s character’s descent into madness. The design and tone of the film was appropriate and well controlled from a filmmaker who had only one previous feature credit to his name.
Where you have to put Baird’s take on Welsh’s novel behind Danny Boyle’s effort on “Trainspotting” is the ability to spread our interest beyond the film’s lead and emphasize the dark humor.
The supporting characters were much more interesting and given much more to do in “Trainspotting.” “Filth,” while taking the time to set up the supporting crew’s individual antics, doesn’t employ those character traits enough. One reason that could be is because they are exaggerations of McAvoy’s perception of them, but even if that is the case, since he is the audience’s point of view, they could have all been harped on more.
That in turn hurts the comedic parts of the film. McAvoy’s dirty mouth and douchebag antics can only go so far before they are realized as the psychological flaws of this man. Going back to “Trainspotting,” where the eccentric natures of the supporting characters was the basis for practically all of the humor, “Filth” could have amped that up a little more.
None of this is to say that the supporting performances in “Filth” are glaring weaknesses. Eddie Marsan, Shirley Henderson, Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots are solid enough. However, save of Marsan and Henderson, the rest of the company is boringly flat, especially compared to the first descriptions we get from them.
That’s why McAvoy’s performance is so impressive; despite dangerously flirting with chewing the scenery, while you are watching him you are so engrossed with his performance that the rest of the film around him becomes less important. The other end of that though, is when you think about the film outside of McAvoy, there is little that will elicit overwhelming support. Without McAvoy’s performance, the film would be a relatively forgettable affair.
So, while most theater audiences will get their McAvoy fix watching him battle Sentinels in one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, if you really want to see what the Scottish actor can do you can catch him a week later in Baird’s dark comedy. “Filth” is also now playing on Video On Demand, just in case you can’t wait that long.