Movie reviews: Filth

Adapted from the novel by Irvine Welsh, Filth (18s) opens with the murder of a Japanese student in Edinburgh in the run-up to Christmas.

Movie reviews: Filth

Leading the investigation is DS Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), although Bruce has other things on his mind, including vivid hallucinations brought on by a rapacious appetite for booze and drugs. A sex addict and an irredeemably corrupt copper, Bruce fancies his chances of promotion if he can solve the murder case — providing, of course, that Bruce can maintain his fragile grasp on reality. Directed by Jon S Baird, Filth is a grim, sordid affair that deploys comedy of the blackest stripe to leaven the mood. Despite its hard-edged tone, the first half feels self-indulgently whimsical, as Bruce screws, drinks and snorts his way through proceedings in a vain bid to anaesthetise himself against the loss of his wife and child. It’s a brave gambit by Baird, who risks alienating any viewer who isn’t fully convinced of the fundamental immorality of humanity, but his vision pays off handsomely in the second half. The various plot strands, which appear loosely thrown together in the first half, and seem largely employed for shock value, coalesce with increasing emotional power as the story gathers momentum towards a genuinely shocking climax. The Edinburgh setting is entirely appropriate, given that Deacon William Brodie, the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was an Edinburgh man, and McAvoy is excellent as Robertson struggles to cope with maintaining a professional facade whilst battling the self-destructive demon within.

How I Live Now (15A) opens with American teenager Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) arriving for a holiday at her cousins’ house in the English countryside. Initially difficult and remote, Daisy gradually warms to the bucolic setting and her cousins’ quirky ways, and particularly the charms of the handsome Edmond (George Mackay). Their idyll is shattered, however, when terrorists attack England and drop a nuclear bomb on London. With the family split up, Daisy and her cousin Piper (Hayley Bird) set out on an epic trek to find Edmond. Adapted from the young adult novel by Meg Rosoff, and directed by Kevin Macdonald, How I Live Now is an intriguing prospect. Thrown back on their own resources, the teenagers rise to the challenge of surviving a nuclear attack without recourse to adult assistance (adults are for the most part depicted as well-meaning bumblers or vicious killers). Having established this fascinating scenario, however, the story segues into an extended march across a largely empty landscape as Daisy leads the long-suffering Piper on their search for Edmond. The performances, too, are rather stilted. This is deliberately done, perhaps, to convey the awkwardness of teenagers, and particularly those stretched to their emotional and physical limits, but there’s too much in the way of sulky whining and not enough of a heroine transcending her limitations to achieve her goal.

Written and directed by Maggie Carey, The To Do List (16s) is more comedic tale of teenage angst, as straight-A high school student Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) realises that she has quite a lot to learn about sex before she gets to college. And so, aided and abetted by her friends, Brandy makes a to-do list of sexual activities, most of them centred on the lust of her life, Rusty (Scott Porter). Set in the early 1990s, the story is a riposte to the conventional raunchy high school comedy, which generally features boys run ragged by their hormones. Here the joke is that the heroine — smart, focused, successful — must abandon her cerebral approach to life and persuade herself to celebrate the dubious virtues of male teenage sexual fantasies. It’s a dispiriting premise — if you don’t “put it out”, according to the movie’s rules of engagement, you’re either crazy or a lesbian — and while Maggie Carey is to be praised for reversing the traditional male gaze and making the boys the beefcake eye-candy, it would have been a much more interesting experience if the boys were forced to come up to Brandy’s standards, rather than have Brandy descend to theirs. That said, Aubrey Plaza makes for a delightfully naïve ingénue, and she gets strong support from Scott Porter, Bill Hader and Alia Shawkat in an amiably entertaining comedy.

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