James McAvoy

Filth (2013)

Think Irvine Welsh and you immediately think Trainspotting. Some of you will be thinking about Welsh’s caustic novel about drugs and degradation in Scotland. Most of you will be thinking of Danny Boyle’s prettified-Iggy-Pop-soundtracked-give-it-some-sense-of-redemption film interpretation. A film that became bigger than itself. It snatched heroin-chic out of the jaws of Calvin Klein! It scared parents! Teenagers actually picked up a book! And the soundtrack?! We all bloody loved Underworld’s Born Slippy didn’t we? Oy! Oy! Saveloy! You on one! Maybe not the 10 minute version so much. Like your pervy uncle coming over for Christmas, nice in theory, but troublesome in practice.

This preamble is an overlong way of saying that Trainspotting was never going to be replicated. Which is why people tried: See The Acid House and Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy.

So, when it comes to Jon S. Baird’s Filth, skepticism maybe high for this comedy-drama based on Irvine Welsh’s book of the same name. But fret not…

Ticking off the usual tropes of Welsh’s work – sex, drugs and impenetrable accents – James McAvoy plays DS Bruce Robertson; a misanthropic, alcoholic, five o’clock shadow of a man. He’s a bully and an adulterer. He plays little ‘games’ with his colleagues, like calling up their wives and, whilst performing a Frank Sidebottom impression, talks dirty to them. He is the worst person to put in charge of a murder investigation… And yet, clearly the memo didn’t reach his superiors.

Robertson belches, fucks, drinks and snorts his way through the investigation, taking a little time off to dose his friends in the middle of Amsterdam. McAvoy seems to be relishing the opportunity to play an utter bastard and you’ll be sucked in by the gravitational pull of his performance. There’s no cheeky, charming heroin addict a la Ewan McGregor here, Robertson is an utter shit.

Starting off bold as brass and beard of ginger, the pressure to prove himself to his superiors and his wife leads him down a path into the Arena of the Unwell. The extent of this illness is illustrated wonderfully by Baird through a series of imaginary conversations between Robertson and his psychiatrist, played with aplomb by a curiously accented Jim Broadbent.

For all its debauchery and sadism, Filth is equally a pitch black comedy that will raise giggles from you in the most unlikely circumstances. Not that it’s not without its moments of pathos, as slowly a picture builds up that clearly everything is not happy in the Robertson household. However, don’t expect to cling onto these moments for too long.

Filth is a cracking film. It snares you in and leaves you floundering as you try to scrabble around for someone to actually cheer on.

Good luck with that.

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Trance (2013)

After becoming the Nation’s favourite after directing the Olympic opening ceremony, Danny Boyle returns to the big screen with British psychological thriller, Trance. James McAvoy plays Simon, a fine art auctioneer who falls into the hands of French gangster, Franck (Vincent Cassel). Helping Franck steal a piece of fine art, Simon ends up cracking his head open and forgetting where he left the painting. Silly Billy. To help spur his memory on, Franck books Simon a session with hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson).

What follows for the next 100 minutes, is a film that frustrates and fascinates in equal measure. There’s a real feel of Boyle’s earlier work at the beginning. An opening narration by McAvoy brings back fond memories of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, whilst Boyle’s direction reminds us of the kinetic energy of Slumdog Millionaire.

The performances are all perfectly fine, with McAvoy playing Simon as man who is clearly in over his head; scared, alone and just really wanting to have a lie down. Dawson mixes up the sultry with the professional in a manner that makes us wish she had Catherine Zeta Jones part in Side Effects. Cassell is dependable as the most patient, angry gangster in the world.

And that last line hints at one of the issues we have with Trance. The script by Joe Ahearne (This Life and Ultraviolet) and John Hodge (Shallow Grave and The Final Curtain, to name but two) asks the audience to make leaps of logic in the run up to the dénouement. Returning to our original example, would a criminal, who has already been shown to be quite violent, really stay this calm for this long? Surely McAvoy would be wearing his testicles as earrings by now!

When the ending does arrive, you will either punch the air or a cat. It asks an awful lot of you, and whilst we were willing to suspend our disbelief for Side Effects, it took a hell of a lot more than a spoonful of sugar to help this medicine go down.

Trance does not have the strongest story and it’s as sexual as an episode of the Red Show Diaries, but Danny Boyle’s direction ensures that you won’t question any of this until you leave the cinema. What you make of it then is up to you.