James McAvoy As A Creep? In 'Filth,' The Anti-Typecasting Works The indie drama Filth, McAvoy makes a departure from his usual good-guy roles and plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson — a bipolar, bigoted, junkie cop.


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James McAvoy As A Creep? In 'Filth,' The Anti-Typecasting Works

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The actor James McAvoy has mostly played heroes and romantic leads - think "X-Men" and "Atonement." He might not seem like someone you'd cast as a creep in a movie called "Filth." But critic Bob Mondello says this is casting against type that works.

BOB MONDELLO: He swaggers down the street, swiping balloons from children, ogling their mothers, flipping off foreigners, smirking as he ticks down a list of what makes Scotland a place where he feels he can be cock-of-the-walk.


JAMES MCAVOY: (As Bruce) This nation brought the world television, the steam engine, golf, whiskey, penicillin, and of course the deep-fried Mars bar. It is great being Scottish. We're such a uniquely successful race.

MONDELLO: He's the kind of soulless operator you might call the police protect you from, except he is the police.


MCAVOY: (As Bruce) Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, soon-to-be Detective Inspector Bruce Robertson. You just have to be the best, and I usually am.

MONDELLO: If by the best, he means he's the most racist or the biggest coquette or the least principled, he's got that right. As he angles for that promotion to detective inspector, Robertson's got little time for actual police business. There's so much undercutting of his competition to do, whether he's getting a teetotaller drunk or hiring someone to make a fastidious colleague seem gay or embarrassing a guy who feels sexually inadequate by suggesting at an office party a variation on that photocopier butt prank.


MCAVOY: (As Bruce) What we'd do is we would photocopy an image of our wedding tackle, then be up to the lassies to match the male member with the corresponding owner.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What a load of bollocks, man.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Let's do it.

MONDELLO: James McAvoy, looking puffy, eyes perpetually glazed, plays Robertson with enough foul-mouthed sleaze to be thoroughly off-putting. I had a hard time finding dialogue of his that wouldn't have to be bleeped on the radio.

"Filth" is based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, who also wrote the profane, drug-fueled epic "Trainspotting." And this story sometimes feels equally unsavory. Other times, it just seems as if writer/director Jon S. Baird is playing around with movie-making jokes, say by casting the actors who played dancer Billy Elliot and his dad as cops or by staging some Terry-Gilliam-style hallucinations, featuring animal masks and a pill-pushing, Christmas-caroling Jim Broadbent.


JIM BROADBENT: (As Dr. Rossi, singing) This promotion's made him crack. Isn't it ironic? Bigger pay, bigger job, bigger pills, Bruce.

MONDELLO: As intriguing as it is to watch McAvoy getting uncharacteristically down and dirty - and he's almost alarmingly good at it - the film gets emotionally squishy as it heads into its final real with perhaps a few more behavior-explaining revelations that it really needs. But credit the filmmakers with descending persuasively into the swampy squalor of a diseased mind. If you're in the mood to go there with them, "Filth" offers a pretty bracing wallow. I'm Bob Mondello.


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