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One of the essential films of the 1990s, Mike Leigh's brilliant and controversial "Naked" stars David Thewlis as Johnny, a charming, eloquent, and relentlessly vicious drifter in London. Rejecting all those who would care for him, the volcanic Johnny hurls himself into a nocturnal odyssey through the city, colliding with a succession of the desperate and the dispossessed and scorching everyone in his path. With a virtuoso script and raw performances by Thewlis and costars Katrin Cartlidge and Lesley Sharp, Leigh's panorama of England's crumbling underbelly is a showcase of black comedy and doomsday prophecy, and was the winner of the best director and actor prizes at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.
- Audio commentary by director Mike Leigh and actors David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge
- Exclusive new video introduction by filmmaker Neil LaBute
- The Conversation, a BBC program with author Will Self interviewing Leigh
- Original theatrical trailer
- New essay by film critic Derek Malcolm
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I think this incredibly well-made drama is a true 90s film. There had been a few up until that point. I would use The Double Life of Veronique (1991), Unforgiven (1992), Hard Boiled (1992), Short Cuts (1993), as great examples of the best of early 90s cinema. And this film in particular is so well put together, that it is the first film I mention when someone asks me to indentify the best english-language films of the 90s.
Briefly stated, Naked is an incredibly well acted, well shot, and perfectly executed drama about transient people and how they interact in the digital age. That alone must sound pretentious. And when I first saw Naked on Criterion laserdisc in 1994, I thought the same thing. But then the film simply grew on me. This is a drama that demands that the audience sympathize with a brilliant-yet-brutal drifter of a man, Johnny, created and portrayed by the gifted David Thewlis. Further complicating things for the audience, Johnny is from Manchester, a region of England that is not too well understood, even among Londoners. But this film quickly makes you acquainted with Johnny and where he's from through the dialogue, which was put together by director Mike Leigh and his actors through intensive rehearsals and improvisations (making this film all the more remarkable). They created these characters, the start point, and the end point as a team. And it is an extraordinary work of art.
This film felt ultra-contemporary when it was new, and it still seems fresh today. It was very well shot by Dick Pope, who has been Mike Leigh's DP ever since Life is Sweet (1991). It features high-contrast day and night shots, revealing a London we seldom see in color films today. Some shots - the 'catering carts' shot and the Johnny 'apocalypse monologue' in the office building in particular are stunning.
Mike Leigh is not a filmmaker I would compare to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but his dark themes and stagy dramatic elements in this film sure do come close to an urban Fassbinder film. Like Fassbinder, Leigh is both a playwright and filmmaker. Each time you watch this movie, a new theme, icon, cultural or historical reference reveals itself. This isn't Lost or a Rush album cover, but there are more than enough little bits for thinking audience members to chew on and discuss.
This film is somewhat experimental, in that it throws a lot at you in just over two hours. It is not entirely realistic in that the topics the characters discuss are not usually what real people talk about when they first meet. But I think that makes this movie all the more fascinating. It is a real thinking person's movie - a true 21st century drama. And you can immediately tell how much each actor was directed to construct their characters as much as possible. Mike Leigh has his story take shape mainly through rapid and clever dialogue, and what a sweeping picture his actors' words create. This is a movie about people without a home. It is a simple yet rare theme in movies.
Johnny moves through London in a scenario loosely inspired by The Odyssey. His journey takes him through over 30 sleepless hours, and 4 long conversations (or monologues if the other party is bewildered by his complexity). But unlike The Odyssey, where our hero comes back to where he started to vanquish a villain, Johnny comes back to his odyssey's start point to meet another brutal, albeit wealthier version of himself. That man, played by writer/director/producer Greg Crutwell (in his acting debut), is simply one of the greatest villains of the 90s, in my opinion. His Jeremy/Sebastian character is at once unusual, unique, evil, awkward, brutal, and simply wonderful to watch. Hollywood remembers great 90s villains played by Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, and Ed Harris, among others. But I will never forget this guy (he's an alt-villain, perhaps). It is a real stroke of genius that Mike Leigh would construct the film so that the two male protagonists are essentially variations of the same theme (brilliant mind, brutal towards women, masochistic, perhaps suicidal), which allows this film to build layers and layers upon itself and the audience without hitting viewers on the head to pay attention to any one of the themes being thrown at them. It takes multiple viewings to understand and appreciate Naked.
The editing and the film's score come together wonderfully. Mike Leigh totally went outside his comfort zone to do many scenes that propel this multi-themed story forward (I think this movie set a record for number of shots and scenes in a Mike Leigh film). Again, it feels fresh and crisp today as it wowed Cannes in 1993 (where Leigh took home best director honors, and David Thewlis was crowed best actor). You just have to see it in order to understand what an amazing accomplishment it is. Some scenes will sound like Montey Python. Other scenes will feel like older Mike Leigh movies or plays. And still other sequences are unlike anything Leigh had done before. But the end result is Leigh's darkest and one of his very best works. A must for any 90s collection. And a truly visionary, risk-taking film that tries to dissect western civilization....."in a quirky sort of way."