Having seen this movie upon its release in 1993, I remember seeing a tough, brutal little picture with a great leading performance by David Thewlis. I didn't actually remember liking it, however. Thirteen years later, I've had the pleasure of revisiting Mike Leigh's "Naked" in its Criterion issue. And being older and more savvy, I've discovered the film as if it were my first time viewing it. And what a lot of pleasures there are to be had in "Naked."
First, David Thewlis is brilliant! The ferocity of his performance captivated audiences around the world and won him Cannes and other acting honors, but no Oscar nomination. I would contend that if this movie were released now, with Mike Leigh and David Thewlis better known and respected, the outcome would have been much different. All the performers bring a realness to the film that make it so effective, but it is Thewlis's show.
Thewlis's Johnny is a despicable human being. He is rude, violent, petulant, unwashed, selfish, and totally at odds with anything even resembling humanity. He proceeds to make his way through London meeting up with various characters each more loathsome or desperate then the last. It is a bleak portrait, at best. Every woman, inexplicably, is drawn to Johnny. I mean--what a catch, huh? Some might label the film misogynistic, and it's treatment of women isn't glamorous--but I'd contend that the men are all ogres as well which helps balance things out.
So why is this movie great? Sounds like a nasty piece of work (and it is). But aside from the blistering performances, the film is scathingly and brutally funny. The impeccably literate script actually has something to say about the modern world, about philosophy, about the human condition. It's a tremendously smart black comedy. And Johnny becomes one of the most well-spoken and funny antiheroes in modern movie history. It's refreshing for a movie that is so brutal and tough to be so intelligent as well. And for all you despise about Johnny, there will be a grudging respect too. You understand why people are drawn to him.
I've thought about this film many times since I rewatched it last week, and now I've felt compelled to add my two cents here. Check it out. A nasty masterpiece. KGHarris, 10/06.