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Don't Expect A Comedy
on 6 October 2013
This film, whilst having occasional moments that are genuinely witty and funny, is not a comedy. This is a crucial distinction to make, as the trailers and posters are billing it as such. It is actually a very sad, honest and truthful film about a man, with a mental condition, having a complete breakdown.
The film begins with the unkempt and repellent Scottish Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) informing us in one of the film's many fourth-wall-breaking episodes that he wants the new staff promotion that's in the running, and he is going to play each contender off each other so that he ends up with the title Inspector. So far, so In-Bruges-lite black comedy, with a very antiheroic antihero. But it's not long before Bruce has descended into a dark, Scottish vision of hell involving underage sex, copious drug use, tapeworms, Jim Broadbent with a huge head, and dirty phone-calls with the woman who played Moaning Myrtle, and the comedy is there no more.
And so the film goes on, and on, and by the end I found myself crying. At some point, the film became something tragic, and I found myself touched and saddened; this kind of thing happens every day, with people, and it isn't very funny at all. Bruce is trapped in a vicious cycle of behaviour that isn't really his fault, but is entirely his own making. He is horrible, abusive and violent to people, but all of a sudden something happens and he's in tears. He's standing on his best mate's glasses and trashing an art museum, but then, suddenly he's trying to save the life of a man in the street. You might argue that this is the film tonally pulling itself apart, but these patterns and behaviours are true to life.
In the end, the film does a very tricky thing. It begins by creating a loathsome creature of a man, and in the end we feel deeply sorry for him. This is a man who is messed up, and far beyond help. McAvoy does a heart-rending job of bringing him to life, and his performance deserves to be commended. Jon S. Baird keeps a heavy hand on things and makes the film his own, despite imbuing the film with obvious yet justified nods to Kubrick, Lynch, Cronenberg, Refn, et al, and his script gets the balance just right between gonzo weird-ness and not letting us forget that there is a very sad person at the centre of all this mayhem. The supporting cast do effective work also, with Imogen Poots, Broadbent, Jamie Bell and numerous others filling their roles nicely. But this is McAvoy's show. He has created Robertson from the ground up, and it is clear that he understands him; the desperation is almost palpable in some scenes near the end.
All in all, it's not an easy watch, and I doubt I'll watch it again soon in the near future. But this is one of the surprises of the year, and it is an important film that, somewhere lurking amongst the taboos and reprehensible behaviour, has a cracked, bleeding heart; but a heart all the same.