Director : Mike Leigh
Screenplay : Mike Leigh
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1993
Stars : David Thewlis (Johnny), Lesley Sharp (Louise Clancy), Katrin Cartlidge (Sophie), Greg Cruttwell (Sebastian Hawks), Claire Skinner (Sandra the Nurse), Peter Wight (Brian the Nightwatchman), Ewen Bremner (Archie the Scotsman with a Tick), Susan Vidler (Maggie, Archie's Girl), Deborah MacLaren (Woman in Window), Gina McKee (Cafe Girl), Carolina Giammetta (Masseuse), Elizabeth Berrington (Giselle the Waitress)
Mike Leigh’s Naked is as raw as it is perceptive, as funny as it is disturbing. Telling the story of a few days in the life of Johnny (David Thewlis), a scruffy, charming misanthrope who draws people into his space only to repel them in the most violent of ways, Naked veers and swerves between tragedy and comedy, sometimes in the same scene, often in the same moment.
David Thewlis’ portrayal of Johnny is one of the great screen performances, particularly in that unsettling niche category of characters who we should loathe on every level, yet are so intriguing and so nakedly human in their flaws that you can’t help but feel for them. They represent that dark side of ourselves -- a side we sense, but never want to admit to. In many ways, Johnny is like another character of the same name played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) -- a contradictory rogue who arouses an intensity of emotions with his strident irrationality. We want these characters to improve, we want to see them somehow redeemed, even though we know they never can be.
Leigh never sentimentalizes Johnny and he never asks us to accept him for anything other than what he is: a scoundrel. In fact, the film’s opening shot, a shaky handheld camera rushing toward Johnny, depicts him in the middle of raping a woman in a dingy back alley, a callous act of violence whose threat of retribution forces him to leave his home town of Manchester and rush through the night to safe haven in London. His safe haven turns out to be the home of his ex-girlfriend, Louise (Lesley Sharp), who represents the film’s moral backbone and humanity.
Of course, Johnny is never content to be anywhere for any length of time, and after bedding Louise’s roommate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), he disappears into the night, beginning a strange odyssey of encounters with the underbelly of London. For all of his gifts in depicting finely nuanced characters, in Naked Leigh also displays equal brilliance in capturing time and place. His portrayal of London after hours, a world of darkness, cold, and damp in which “you’re never more than 30 feet from a rat,” is an object lesson in the power of cinema to convey the sense of “being there.” You can feel the chill in the air, the wetness in your bones, the ungiving hardness of cement sidewalks and asphalt streets. Yet, this is the world Johnny would rather inhabit than risk allowing someone else to care for him. He seems programmed to react against love, which in its own way makes him more pathetic than despicable.
As if to underscore this, Leigh presents us with a character who mirrors Johnny, a sadist who calls himself Sebastian (Greg Cruttwell). Where Johnny is penniless, Sebastian is a man of worldly means, and where Johnny is cruel to others out of a perceived need to distance himself from human connection, Sebastian is cruel for the sake of cruelty. Both men brutally abuse women throughout the film (in the case of Sophie, the same woman), yet there is a sense that Johnny’s cruelty is somehow understandable, like a dog that lashes out at anyone because it’s been hit too many times. Sebastian is more of a primal force, as if he simply emerged from the womb hellbent on causing pain and misery. In this respect, he is the film’s weakest character because he is the only one without a human dimension. Even the crackpots and derelicts Johnny meets on the street are recognizably human.
Not surprisingly, Naked was Leigh’s breakthrough film, the one that brought him international acclaim. It was hardly his first work, as he had already directed four films, a dozen TV plays, and two-dozen theatrical plays. His specific method of taking months to improvise and work out the characters and situations with his actors before rolling a single foot of film is now legendary, and for obvious reasons. It results in a uniquely nuanced and textured portrayal of life, however nasty or off-putting. The fact that Naked is so frequently funny and moving despite the awful events that transpire is testament to the insight Leigh and his talented cast have into the world of their characters. Naked is the darkest of tragicomedy, yet you feel somehow elated at the end because you know you’ve seen something that rings of the one thing that escapes so many other films: truth.
|Naked Director-Approved Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||September 20, 2005|
|Criterion’s new DVD of Naked sports a beautiful new high-definition anamorphic widescreen transfer taken from a 35mm interposititve and digitally restored. Naked is a very dark film, as much of it takes place at night, and the transfer renders black levels and shadow detail with great precision. Detail levels are high throughout, emphasizing the grime and soot of London’s underbelly. Simply put, another first-rate transfer from Criterion.|
|The two-channel stereo soundtrack, which has also been digitally restored, likewise sounds excellent. Andrew Dickson’s stunning musical score, which plays as a series of antsy, growing climaxes, has effective depth and range.|
|This two-disc DVD set ports over some of the supplements from Criterion’s 1994 laser disc edition, drops some others, and adds a few new ones. |
The most notable carry-over is the screen-specific audio commentary by director Mike Leigh and actors David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge. Leigh takes up most of the commentary, although Thewlis and Cartlidge interject numerous comments throughout. This is one of the great audio commentaries, one that truly opens up the film by letting you into the artistic process. Other supplements from the laser disc include the film’s original theatrical trailer and The Short and the Curlies, a funny 1982 short film directed by Leigh and starring Thewlis. Supplements from the laser disc that didn’t make the trip to DVD include a Leigh filmography with clips and commentary and the complete radio drama Too Much of a Good Thing.
In their place, however, are a couple of new supplements. First up is an exclusive new video interview with director Neil LaBute, in which he discusses the importance of Leigh’s film and defends it (and his own work by proxy) against charges of misogyny. Also new is The Art Zone: “The Conversation”, a 2000 BBC program featuring author Will Self interviewing Leigh. Lastly, the insert booklet contains new essays by film critics Derek Malcolm and Amy Taubin.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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