Naked is a very difficult movie, perhaps Leigh’s most beguiling to date. It leaves you questioning not only Leigh’s artistic intentions or potent social commentary on the pitfalls of Thatcherism, but also the sadistic relationship between religion and rationale that, even for a heathen like me, is endlessly fascinating.
There’s no superlative I could spurt that could describe the sheer brilliance of David Thewlis’ award-winning turn as the complex anti-hero Johnny in Mike Leigh’s Naked. As far as methodical embodiment of a character can go, it is just about one of the best performances I have ever had the pleasure, or should I say, discomfort of watching.
He is a multi-faceted chap. A prophetic philanthropist, a manic depressive, a misogynist, a womaniser, an underclass outsider, an angry product of Thatcherism, a proficient literary critic, a perpetual loner, a sexual predator and a charming party guest; Johnny is not only all of these things, he is all of these things at once.
Naked starts in typically bleak fashion with Johnny raping a defenceless woman in a Manchester alleyway. Finishing the act, and afraid of the consequences, he cowardly steals a car and heads south to the urban prison London, equipped only with a bag filled with stolen books, cigarettes, and the address of old flame Louise (Lesley Sharp).
Over five or so days, we observe the grubby man omnisciently float through the city, turning on the charm to sleep with young, defenceless ladies like Louise’s depressed housemate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), whilst physically wrestling with his more sadistic urges. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Johnny is a spectre who lurks amongst the London smoke, trying to connect with anything that will hear his rambles. What’s he talking about? The imminent apocalypse.
Unsurprisingly for Mike Leigh, the script came as a result of improvising sessions with his committed and highly gifted cast. It’s clearly working wonders here for Thewlis, but the secondary cast feel short changed and incidental, particularly Greg Cruttwell’s role as the girl’s misogynistic, insane landlord Jeremy, who wanders around in his tiny black pants like a skeletal incarnate of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman.
Aside from Thewlis, Naked‘s production crew are some of the best Britain has on offer. Lindy Hemming’s costume design feels appropriately thrown together from an Oxfam display window, whilst director of photography Dick Pope’s lens is as grimy and reckless as the characters he projects. Best of all, Andrew Dickson’s evocative score fondly riffs on the work of regular Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann. Simultaneously menacing and appealing, the audio and visual combine to make a truly suffocating experience.
Clocking in at 130 minutes, Naked is perhaps a little exhaustive. But, for all of it’s problems, the rough edges and wreckless spirit of the movie are what make it so appealing, like the filthiest of kitchen-sink dramas. By the time the credits limp across the screen, you’ll feel as jaded, dirty and naked as Johnny boy himself.