James McAvoy did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson in Filth.
You can forget about any ideas about the types of characters James McAvoy usually plays because they have no relevance with his portrayal of Detective Bruce Robertson in this film. This is one performance that is best to go beat by beat the first beat McAvoy shedding any ideas you might have about him being one of those pretty boy actors who wants to play the youthful go getter sort of guy. That's not Bruce that's not Bruce one bit. One of his earliest scenes is when he and the other detectives get the lowdown on a crime from their chief, and the first thing he does is fart just to start things off I suppose. Anyway though McAvoy whole portrayal is what makes it hilarious as he gives the not me face, and then the accusatory glance at the man sitting closest to him. I guess that kind of sets the tone but don't be fooled by just that.
McAvoy's work here is highly entertaining from this early scene where he gives the low down on each of his opponents for the promotion. McAvoy's narration is this is very much like Leonado DiCaprio's in The Wolf of Wall Street, which is to say it is not your typical Morgan Freeman type of delivery. McAvoy's like DiCaprio's has that same amorality suggested just in the way he speaks about seemingly important things with such irreverence in his attitude. Like DiCaprio this makes his narration very comedic to behold, but McAvoy perhaps has a little extra added to it through a sense of mischief in his delivery. In his narration McAvoy does not just show that he wants to get the promotion over his co-workers by humiliating them, he also suggests in his slightly joyful delivery that he is going to personally enjoy every minute of it.
McAvoy's brilliance in this role though does not stop with his narration or his comedic timing, not by a small margin. We also soon get a glimpse with Bruce on the job which he takes as the king of the city style approach. He and another one of the detectives bust two young people one who is underage. McAvoy has the right cynical dominance in the scene and we see Bruce in top form as he controls the situation without question. His two interrogations of the subjects are particularly notable as Bruce humiliates and tortures each of them in most unusual ways to derive what he wants from them again rather unusual things that he desires. McAvoy carries himself with a palatable menace in the scene and you can see why they would give it up. That would be enough but McAvoy twists it by having such a sinister face of glee the whole time.
It is really saying something, I must say, that Detective Bruce Robertson actually makes the Bad Lieutenant seem like a lightweight by comparison when it comes to being the dirtiest cop imaginable. Aside of pushing subjects around to get whatever he wants Bruce indulges in somethings so many things that perhaps even Jordan Belfort might take a moment to consider doing them. We get the usual thing like having sex with a co-workers wife, but uh not usually in this way no not this way at all. Old Bruce not only has sex with her but they also both participate in autoerotic asphyxiation with one another as they take turns choking it other with ropes while having sex of course. By the way James McAvoy's face is something to behold in these scenes not only is he hilarious in his expression somehow, but he does not cut back on the depravity.
In his indulgences McAvoy makes Bruce Robertson almost a force of nature of sorts as he goes constantly for any enjoyment that can be found for himself whether it be sex, drink, drugs, or just some sort of humiliation for someone else. McAvoy sells every scene to the fullest extent and he goes about showing Bruce extreme exuberance of the moment. When Bruce is indulging McAvoy does not show him to be a man who is just trying to have a good time, not not even the slightest. McAvoy makes it far more primal and far more intense with Bruce. When Bruce does any of it McAvoy suggests an unsatisfiable need within Bruce to do these things. It is not just because he likes it not even even close really, no what Bruce does is something it appears that Bruce must have, which is essential in the later revelations of his character.
Well as it turns out Bruce is more of a mess than he even appears to be, and well he definitely seems like a mess to begin with so how much more a mess can he be. Well he is not just a man who would want to attend a party by Bacchus like Jordan Belfort, nah because Bruce actually does have a soul even though that may be rather hard to believe. We first view Bruce's heart when he attempts to help a dying man and it flashes quickly to show that Bruce himself is thinking of this dying boy. McAvoy's performance is surprisingly heart wrenching at times because he does portray Bruce as genuinely being haunted by this death in his past. McAvoy does not separate from the rest of the man though by any measure but rather suggest quite effectively that his outrageous behavior is in fact has been caused by this trauma.
McAvoy is a marvel to behold at times the way he intertwines these facets of Bruce so flawlessly together. There is not the disconnect as you would think there would be as McAvoy brings both sides of Bruce together as one man. One particularly amazing scene is when Bruce goes from harassing one of the suspects of the crime he must solve first in his typical way of badgering while having his combination of a sneer and smile. On his way out though he bumps into the grieving woman whose husband he had attempted to save earlier. The few seconds where he changes demeanor McAvoy is masterful as we see a tender side of Bruce revealed as he attempts to try to deal with her in an honest way. McAvoy's moment creates a decided kink in Bruce's armor of amorality and remarkably shows that Bruce is not really what he makes himself out to be.
As the film progresses slowly things begin to fall more and more apart for Bruce as less and less does it seem like he really has a grasp on the case he's suppose to be solving, or the promotion he wants, or even reality. McAvoy's falling apart is truly something to behold here because firstly it comes naturally because of the seeds of doubt he planted in the played of the earlier scenes of the more controlled Bruce, but as well because McAvoy still does not hold back for a moment whether it be the debauchery he still continues to participate in and his ever growing fragile state of mind. McAvoy is amazing because he still stays hilarious while creating substantial sympathy for the broken man that Bruce slowly reveals himself to be. McAvoy's absurdly fascinating to watch in this depraved decay as even a moment of phone sex becomes a mental breakdown for Bruce.
One thing that seems like a silver lining for Bruce are those dreamlike images of his smoking hot wife. Of course they are dreamlike for a reason. The spoiler truth behind Bruce is that he actually spends his nights dressing up in women's clothing walking the streets and believing himself to be his wife who has left him. This scene could have fallen into an instantly bad sort of parody of absurdity but McAvoy never let's that happen. He plays it so flawlessly by making the moment darkly comic in its very own way, but also deeply tragic. The most interesting part of it McAvoy weaves his performance so its both tragic and funny for the same reason which is how he ends up at this point. Its oddly comical because we see the "tough" Bruce who humiliates others devolve to this point, but it's terribly tragic because McAvoy believably makes this the actual broken psyche of this man.
This performance is all about the ups and downs of the bipolar Bruce as the slow reveal of just how extreme his sides are. My favorite moment perhaps is the very end of his performance which one again so brilliantly connects the man even while his actions seems so random. McAvoy begins the scene where Bruce trying to inspire his one friend (Eddie Marsan), and McAvoy is genuinely warm and tender in the moment. He then proceeds to utter defeat and is extremely heartbreaking in showing the last of the man and just the slight hesitation as he sees one of the bright spots in his life, and then it all ends so perfectly with one last smile and wink that ends it all with one more laugh. This is an outstanding performance by James McAvoy as he turns the broken man into a cohesive whole, and I loved watching every minute of it.