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A Fortnight of Films 

Ahead of the release of Filth on the 17th of October and the Fifth Estate on the 31st of October, Martha Lewis gives us her thoughts on why the leading men alone are reason enough to see these films.

This October is all about two book adaptations, each starring a favourite actor of mine: How I Live Now,  starring Saoirse Ronan, and Filth, starring James McAvoy. The following Friday was the opening night for the WikiLeaks biopic, the Fifth Estate, and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills. Yes, though I cannot say I am proud of it, Machete Kills is on my to-watch list. I have seen Filth and the Fifth Estate though, two films which I am sure will be best remembered for the performances of their leading men.

Filth is the tale of Edinburgh policeman, Bruce Robertson, who is about as corrupt as policemen come and who has committed just about every illegal, shocking and perverted act you can think of. It is based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, Scottish author of Trainspotting. If you have ever seen or read Trainspotting you will know the sort of thing to expect: a lot of drugs, violence, extreme language and appalling characters.

James McAvoy is constantly expanding his film CV and in Filth, he has certainly done something new. Photo: DPA

Yet despite the extremes to which Filth goes and the lines it crosses, it was not the meaningless, well, filth that you might be led to expect from some of the more negative reviews. Bruce Robertson is a truly twisted man but his actions are not implausible when one considers the obvious depression and undiagnosed psychiatric illness he clearly suffers from. Combine that with the huge amount of class A drugs and alcohol he consumes and, actually, Bruce’s behaviour is far from surprising. Nor does the film provide a black-and-white portrayal of McAvoy’s repugnant copper as an evil figure. It is not merely pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour for the sake or shock of its viewers, but rather, it is exploring the effects of emotional trauma and mental instability mixed with a whole lot of narcotics. Filth does not demonise nor glorify Bruce Robertson, it tries to understand him and this is what makes Filth, in some ways, a beautiful film.

James McAvoy delivers a stunning performance as the lead character. At first, one might question why he was chosen: baby-faced, usually loveable and by ordinary standards not very physically intimidating. However, it is only an actor like McAvoy who could, within one role, deliver this utterly revolting and rather frightening performance.

I would not say that Filth is as intelligent or accomplished a film as Trainspotting. That said, it is one of the best British films I have seen in 2013 and James McAvoy’s performance is one of the most memorable I have seen in a long time.

The Fifth Estate, though an entirely different film, is also one I would recommend, especially to other people who, like me, perhaps don’t have as strong an understanding of what went on with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange as they should. In my opinion, this film chronicles undoubtedly one of the most important events of the past decade and shows its audience just how significant an effect on modern society Assange’s website has had.

The film is based partly on the book by former WikiLeaks spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg (played in the movie by Daniel Brühl), Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website (2011). It follows Assange and Berg from their first meeting and the forming of their partnership to the disclosure via WikiLeaks, the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, of the confidential information supplied by Bradley Manning concerning, among other things, the war in Afghanistan.

Benedict Cumberbatch - a new, smooth face of coolness to come out of British film in recent years. Photo: DPA

If you are already well aware of the WikiLeaks-Manning scandal and have formed a reasoned opinion of Assange’s actions and whether they did more harm than good, then this may not be the most thrilling drama as the film is perhaps a little slow-paced.

As with Filth, the Fifth Estate is worth a watch for the performance of its leading man. Benedict Cumberbatch is proving himself one of the most talented and watchable actors of his generation. Assange’s is a deeply complex character and Cumberbatch is utterly convincing as the version of Assange this film wishes to portray. True, the fact that the movie is based on Berg’s book may well suggest that the portrayal of Assange is at least partially biased and not entirely accurate; I am sure Assange himself would argue so. However, whoever Cumberbatch is portraying, this cannot have been an easy. Cumberbatch takes on a new accent, new mannerisms and a rather troubled and socially-awkward personality and does it with amazing skill and talent. You could say that it is unsurprising that Cumberbatch, who rose to fame largely due to his starring role in the recent British TV adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, excels in the role of a socially awkward, potentially autistic genius, who is only able to sustain one real relationship.

I definitely had some issues with the way in which the film chose to portray Assange and, in particular, with the way in which it chose to deal with his white hair. I am by no means an expert on the WikiLeaks founder and so could not say how accurately he has been captured, but if I had to make one criticism of the film it would be that, at times, it felt slightly cruel. So as with any portrayal of a non-fictional character and real-life events, take it with a pinch of salt.

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