Filthy, dirty and great fun

FILM
FILTH
Cert 18 | By Steve Dinneen
Three Stars

Adaptations of Irvine Welsh novels, like Irvine Welsh novels, have gone downhill since Trainspotting.

The Acid House (1998) had a flawed, lunatic charm but Ecstasy (2011) was little more than an anemic homage to Danny Boyle’s more famous Edinburgh romp. Filth – based on a novel of spectacular, scatological vulgarity – is better than either, but is so grounded in nineteen-ninety-something that it sometimes feels like a period piece.

McAvoy doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to play Bruce Robertson, the scheming Neanderthal cop at the heart of the squalid tale, but then Robert Carlyle didn’t seem like an obvious choice to play Trainspotting’s Begbie, until the moment you saw him toss a pint glass over his head... McAvoy doesn’t quite capture the terrifying menace of his compatriot, but he shows impressive range as he gurns and snorts his way towards oblivion. What his bent copper lacks in physical presence he makes up for in twisted, Machiavellian malice; you never quite like Robertson, but you have to admire his chutzpah.

One of the chief conceits of the novel – the growing sentience of Robertson’s intestinal tapeworm, which comes to represent his own inward-facing hatred – is, for understandable reasons, dropped. Nobody wants to see that. Instead we get a series of ill-advised asides set inside Robertson’s head, which take inspiration, for reasons unexplained, from the room at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Filth’s opening scenes are shamelessly derivative – at one point Robertson even apes Ewan McGregor’s famous “It’s s**** being Scottish” speech, replacing it with “It’s great being Scottish”, listing things such as deep fried Mars Bars and obesity. But it’s a festering wound of a movie that gets better the more the infection sets in. From the moment a flabby, porcine face leers back at Robertson from the mirror, it’s a nauseating drive straight to a hallucinatory, drink- and drug-induced hell.

As things near their inevitably bleak conclusion, director Jon S Baird seems at pains to try to salvage a shred of dignity from what is decidedly undignified source material, and he shies away from the ultimate ignominy Welsh saves for his protagonist on the final page.

The shocks aren’t quite as shocking as they would have been 15 years ago, but between the rapid-fire references to genital size, the graphic scenes of despairing drug use and even more despairing sex, is some seriously assured, stylish filmmaking.

FILM
HOW I LIVE NOW
Cert 15 | By Daniel O’Mahony
Three Stars

A TABOO romance between cousins plays out against the apocalyptic backdrop of World War Three in director Kevin MacDonald’s adaption of an award-winning teen novel. Saoirse Ronan (pictured) plays Daisy, a recalcitrant New York teenager sent over the pond for a summer with her country-living English relatives – just before a nuclear bomb goes off in London. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps fancying your cousin isn’t such a big deal.

From the moment Daisy arrives, things on the ground are tense, with armed soldiers patrolling the streets. But in the bucolic (and parentally unsupervised) paradise of Brackendale farm, Daisy is able to break out of her reclusive, self-critical shell. After a rocky start, she bonds with cousins Isaac and Piper – and even more so with the older Eddie (George MacKay).

MacDonald has tried to craft a movie that appeals to both teenagers and adults, and there are some beautiful cinematic flourishes. It’s just a shame the plot is subsumed by Daisy’s relationship with Eddie; it’s a rickety, unconvincing storyline that belies the film’s qualities, including a strong performance from Ronan.

A cast full of young actors can often be a recipe for disaster, but Tom Holland and Harley Bird are good as the younger cousins. However, McKay’s Eddie is too rigid, and has so few lines (discounting episodes of cow-whispering) that when he does speak it sounds risibly melodramatic.

Ultimately, the cousins’ familial romance is less shocking than it is boring, serving as an irritating distraction to this otherwise enjoyable film.

FILM
EMPEROR
Cert 12a | By Steve Dinneen
Three Stars

Emperor is a film with grand ambitions and an earnest heart.

It centers on General Bonner Fellers, a Japanophile tasked with, quite literally, deciding the fate of a nation. Should the US put on trial and execute emperor Hirohito – a man considered a deity by his still-loyal subjects – for his part in Japan’s military action? If they do, hawkish Washington politicians and a baying American populace will be abated, but Japan would face almost certain revolt, leading to a lengthy – and costly – occupation (note the contemporary parallels).

The politicking General MacArthur, played with an equal measure of camp and vexation by Tommy Lee Jones, wants some proof before he makes up his mind. He’s a rational man, you see, maybe even rational enough to be President one day.

Fellers (played by Lost’s Matthew Fox), the thinking man’s general to MacArthur’s bloke’s bloke, tries his best to unravel the days and hours leading up to Japan’s entry and exit from the war, in the face of a complete lack of evidence. When one Japanese politician is asked for his take on events, he sings a poem. When Fellers looks bemused, he offers to sing it again. Equal to the challenge, Fellers decides the key lies in the Japanese psyche, which is a stroke of luck, because that’s exactly what his thesis was on.

Part of Feller’s battle is with his own side. He soon cottons on that MacArthur is using him to distance himself from what is essentially a no-win situation, allowing the senior man to further his political ambitions.

It’s let down by a tacked-on love story that shows little faith in the audience’s ability to swallow the bitter pill of recrimination without the odd shot of a soft-focus beauty. The “Westerners are from Mars and Japanese are from Venus” pop psychology is also clumsy.

But Emperor is rarely less than engaging, lifted above its flaws by two assured central performances.