Director: Mike Leigh.
Starring. David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Peter Wright, Ewen Bremner, Gina McKee, Greg Cruttwell. UK. 2h 12m.
It’s hard to talk about this brilliant, tres controversial, sour drama without describing it as a poignant thought provoking and slightly disturbing nocturnal odyssey, it’s the darkest journey throughout London by an unemployed Mancunian on the run after attempting to rape his date. But Johnny (Thewlis) is an infection character, he manages to draw people to him almost like a guardian angel at first, talking a language which they begin to understand, with his unique charm and eloquence but eventually he begins to erupt like a volcano of theories and rude personal attacks, and then he’s hot on the trail for the next conquest like a devil scavenging in the dark.
Mike Leigh is notable as one of the more diverse British directors. His ability to be extraordinary with the ordinary while keeping his finger on the pulse of what really matters to the average man on the street but magnifying his strengths, weaknesses and desires, lends to the films title, it’s as if Johnny is naked, not in the literal sense but there’s nothing stopping his inner reflections being broadcast for all to see, the simple summary of this is pure mastery of the craft of cinema. While the concept of Naked was something brewing within him for a number of years, from his student days in Manchester in the early 50s where enlightened tours would endlessly remind him of the next eclipses and ideas that seemed way into the future, he brings all of this into the film along with lots of touching personal anecdotes.
In it’s very make up the movie was chaotic, the script was a mere 25 pages and everything generated by improvisation during an 11 weeks of rehearsal before shooting, Lead star David Thewlis prepared for this breakthrough role as Johnny by reading Voltaire Candide, the teaching of Buddha and James Gleick’s Chaos along with the Qur’an and the christian Bible, and while it isn’t quoted I imagine there’s a heavy dose of Greek classics involved too, you know the light stuff like the Iliad. It seems though this bonding of ideas the man limited cast formed a sort of Naked Culture which from it the film found it’s firm footings.
“I’ve got an infinite number of places to go, the problem is where to stay.”
So after his dramatic back alley adventure which ends as a woman running away threatening to get some boys to find Johnny, he hops into his car and drives straight to London. Landing on his ex gf’s doorstep he gets let in by her gothy roommate Sophie (Cartlidge), from here on Johnny’s talent for being a charming bastard really kicks in Sophie thinks he’s amazing and she dares to love him, a mistake which follows through the movie, as the two kick back his charming side captures her and she cannot see past it, but to Louise (Sharp) his remarks are nothing but scathing, but when he verbally backs himself into a corner, and the two women become too much he leaves to start his wordy adventure. But Naked isn’t just about Johnny and his plight on mankind, there’s a second contender a bizarre privileged yuppy with disgusting morals, a bad tempter and a bookshelf of other issues, spends his time marauding the night being degrading towards women, this difficult Patrick Bateman from the West End role is played by Greg Cruttwell, a wonderful actor who really should have more movies under his belt, he really perfected the Thatcher Yuppy persona to new level of perfection scoffing at any attempt to bring him down from his privileged perch.
The London night is filled with some amazing characters, a couple of runaway Scots, one being the now cult actor Ewan Bremmer with a hard to forget tick, searching for his equally ill rate and long suffering girlfriend, Johnny pokes his dry humour at each of them for a while then slides on to new grounds, meeting a waitress, a guy putting up fly posters, a middle aged woman who drinks and dances the night away and in of the movies best performances a lonely night watch man paid to look after an empty building, they strike up deep conversation, Thewlis really get his teeth into his role at this point giving a very impressive rambling speech about life death and the universe, I believe this scene is witness to the birth of one of Britain’s greatest actors.
When Johnny is on downtime or having a break, the movie returns to the Yuppy, who’s spending his night scoffing at peasants and degrading women for his amusement, he seems to be a slightly less intelligent physical version of Johnny’s harsh words, the pair have an innate ability to destroy women either mentally or physically, their cutting natures and desires mimics the cold crisp London night which Leigh accentuates with starkly lit streets, watching the actors wrapping up against the smoky breathless night air. The London painted in Naked is raw and cold, filled with unusual characters some shady figures, but the once who catch the eye of Johnny become illuminated until she dulls their shine with is nasty nature. The city doesn’t sleep, and it’s also not the pretty postcard London that the tourist board likes to paint, instead it’s a perfect slice of Thatcher’s denial and a stage for these predators to stalk the beauty. Weather you’d like to admit it or not it’s an accurate screen capture of the nineties that brings on a strong nostalgia of desperate times, looking back through this jagged lens is usually hard, but sometimes the pain is elevated by a drop of Leigh’s absurdist humour, but nothing is missing or glazed over, which is a remarkable feat for this milestone in British cinema.
By the bitter end, Johnny has traveled around London and somehow ended up at the flat with Louise and Sophie, the girls have had their own adventure which partly involved the jacked up Yuppy, strong feminist conversations in the bar about abortions and Johnny. But he’s back and not in good shape, but as Louise tends to him, Sophie begins to see the truth in him in a more sober state, she breaks down, Louise begins to fall in love with Johnny again, all his is against a backdrop of the homeowner putting the flat back in shape as she’s returned to her house in a state after a trip to Zimbabwe. This pivotal point is what managed to bring a tear to my eye as Johnny makes a huge decision and it’s … just so very Johnny…
Naked is a triumph, an astonishing achievement, the lens it cases over social and cultural chaos is spot on, the magic of relationships and interactions have a different platform to act on, the fragile human existence is coaxed out from under the protective shells we all build up and exposed to be prodded with heavy hands.
R – The Cook the Thief his Wife and Her Lover (1989),
L – One Night Movies, London Flicks, One Man One Mission
5s – David Thewlis