Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots
Director: John S. Baird
If Braveheart is to be believed, the Scots were early adopters of the moonie, and this film, based upon the novel by Irvine Welsh, is in the same tradition of truculent provocation. It’s a vitriolic exercise in self-disgust, gleefully putting the boot in to a Scotland which it portrays as racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and up to its neck in junk food, hard liquor, seedy sex and easily available drugs. You can bet Alex Salmond isn’t a fan.
Graduating to a red-cheeked, grizzled role, James McAvoy plays Bruce Robertson, a sleazy detective sergeant bucking for promotion and happy to cut the legs out from under his rivals for the job by fair means or foul – well, okay, mainly by foul. Robertson is an antihero on a Rabelaisian scale, stealing money from his friends’ wallets and sleeping with their wives, his depredations accompanied by a snarling, sarcastic voice over. A street-tough cop who makes Taggart look like a wee boofty, he would seem the ideal choice to be put in charge of an investigation into the senseless murder of a Japanese student by a gang of thugs (karate losing out to headbutts), but instead he spirals into a vicious circle of self-destruction.
And this is the film’s main flaw: with only the slightest of storylines to keep it going, it doesn’t really offer any effective opposition to Robertson. It doesn’t need to, because he’s his own worst enemy, but that isn’t as satisfying seeing nemesis come knocking at the door. On top of that, the satire and drama are all very broad brushstrokes – a lot of drinking, a lot of snorting, a lot of vomiting, one hangover rolling over into the next. And the element which are intended to humanize Roberton and give him dimension – a tentative redemptive arc concerning a tearful widow, and various things that the script keeps up its sleeve concerning Roberton’s character and backstory – only end up making the film seem less tough and intransigent than it purports to be.
Nonetheless, it’s all carried off with great brio. Director John S. Baird moves things along briskly, balancing moments of nightmarish stylization with seedy realism, the supporting cast is strong even if they have little to do, and McAvoy’s lead performance has “tour de force” stamped all over its greasy forehead. Not very deep, but highly energetic, and enjoyably crude and non-PC (no pun intended).