This is Leigh’s fourth archiveable film but there’s little in his three previous (all very solid) efforts that would make you think he’s capable of this. This is a stylistic visual atom bomb on top of being a character study that could be compared to There Will Be Blood or Taxi Driver. Mike Leigh’s Naked is blow-your-hair-back brilliant—a big, bold masterpiece and one of the best films of the 1990’s
Winner of best director and actor at Cannes
It starts with a handheld tracking shot of David Thewlis’ Johnny having sex with a woman (who doesn’t look happy) in an alley, at night (key) with the streetlamps making big embellished-circle spotlights along the alley (and on them)
A strength of the film is the melodic score by Andrew Dickson
The color design throughout the film is a major achievement- masterly- wow. Thewlis is always in black. Black drapes, the black coffee mug, it’s endless here in nearly every frame— meticulously designed– and absolutely adds not to just the museum wall-art quality of the film (by far Leigh’s finest to date) but to the tone/mood and dread in the world of the film (this is the bleakest of the bleak).
Thewlis’ Johnny is one of cinema’s great characters of the decade. You’d have to have Breaking the Waves’ Bess there as well. He’s rapid, cerebral, angry and mocking. The accent lets you know that Leigh’s interest is in realism. Johnny is unrelenting, droll and often spitting fire, talking in riddles, insults and philosophy. He refers to himself (often) as a primate and spouts theories on evolution, God and whatever else is in his sphere—very verbal.
There are two parallel characters/men here. Greg Cruttwell plays Jeremy who is a yuppie American Psycho-type. He bits women, enjoys inflicting pain. It’s just not as compelling as Thewlis’ strand and when you do go to Jeremy’s character you want to get back.
Plotless and gritty
There’s a lot of Fassbinder here with the set-pieces as backdrops and the dedication to background (maybe a bit more Antonioni) – it’s Leigh’s first foray into this type of visual pattern design. You have to think of Kieslowski’s color trilogy as well. One shot is of the bar lighting in pink with black backdrop.
Others are the black store-front advertising
Graffiti, homeless, steam from the streets— this London is Travis Bickle’s NYC in Taxi Driver– Leigh is making a statement for sure. — a total wasteland– biblical implications and readings of the film abound
Quick shot of Toby Jones in there getting chips
The writing here is genius- novelistic. The entire segment with Peter Wight in the building where he’s a security guard is masterful. There’s a shot of them in silhouette arguing about the book of revelations and Johnny’s 1999 doomsday theory. I couldn’t find the pic but there’s a magnificent shot of a round window with a black outline (of course).
Black wallpaper, black toothbrush, black concert heavy metal advertising posters, black Porsche that the Jeremy character drives.
Homer’s The Odyssey in the text. Brilliant. He’s a bounder. This film would pair well with The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (certainly a similar journey)
Another shot of Johnny beaten in an alley in long shot.
I was certainly wrong when I wrote about 1993 last year for not singling out Thewlis as one of the best male performances of the year. His achievement here may be the single greatest of that year.
Ebert has a lovely 4-star review (and he was a huge admirer of Leigh in general) but I do not understand how a critic could write 800+ words on Naked and use the work “black”—I’ve got it on this page 10 times already.
A touching scene of Johnny and Lesley Sharp’s character singing about Manchester. There’s a past there, both good and bad—nostalgia and sorrow, that we never get on Johnny—and that is a choice and it is the right one
The Claire Skinner comes along late and it’s not all her fault but it looks like she’s acting in a 1930’s or 1940’s broader comedy
Ends on down turn which is the right decision by Leigh—Thewlis hopping away—beaten—dazzling