Bruce Robertson is a scumbag. He is a boozing, snorting, womanizing dirty cop with some serious sociopathic tendencies. As with any deviant personality, though, it’s debatable whether he knows just how wrong he is. Accountability notwithstanding, he’s certainly unapologetic. Bruce’s main strategy for winning a promotion is to ruthlessly sabotage his colleagues and this endeavor is presented as the film’s central storyline in its opening scenes. Bruce, played with awesome intensity by James McAvoy, initially seems to be a study of a lost soul reveling in a life with absolutely no boundaries and, while an unexcusable indulgence, spending a couple of hours with the man wouldn’t exactly be a novel cinematic experience.
But somewhere around the halfway mark, we see several full bottles of lithium on Bruce’s dresser and begin to get a sense that there may be a base of suffering behind the veneer of his repulsive behavior. His disturbing hallucinations snap into focus as symptoms of psychosis rather than an echo of drug abuse. And when we’re shocked to discover sympathy for him welling up inside them, Filth resolves into much more than a wallow in depravity. It’s an impressive turnabout. The questions we ask ourselves as our view of Bruce changes, such as “Is anyone truly beyond redemption?” or “Does infirmity excuse perfidy?” are always worth thinking about, so Filth reveals itself to be a twisted but noble prism on the human condition. The film is not for the faint of heart, but viewers who don’t mind being challenged will be rewarded.