Blistering and brutal, Mike Leigh's Naked is easily one of the most corrosive dramas ever to see a screen. It's also a scarily accurate depiction of the ills of the modern Western world, through which a damaged man named Johnny despairingly drifts. Shaped by abuse and tormented by his knowledge of man's essential darkness and animal nature, Johnny compulsively caroms between focusing on that which plagues and puzzles him—existence—and attempting to distract himself, with sex or pain, from his painfully hyperactive mind.
More than anything, Naked was defined by David Thewlis' performance as Johnny. A long way from the wizardly world of Harry Potter (the franchise in which Thewlis plays Lupin), a gaunt Thewlis dazzles with raw emotion and intellectual intensity. For most of the film, Johnny shambles around London after fleeing Manchester and the repurcussions of a rape he commits in the opening scene. Woe betide all who cross his path, for they will receive the profane tongue-lashing of their lives. Johnny seeks out his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp) and repays her kindness with cruelty, including the sexual pursuit of her flatmate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). Once Johnny moves on, the unfortunate women discover that someone even worse than the sociopathic Johnny is possible: the psychopathic Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), Louise's flash and sadistic landlord. As Jeremy terrorizes the women, Johnny prowls the city by night, having brief encounters with a variety of sad personalities. Most prominently, he convinces a high-rise apartment building's nightwatchman (Peter Wight's Brian) to let him in and engage in an existential wrestling match.
As much as the film is a brilliant character study of Johnny, Naked also uses him to reveal plenty about others through how they react to him, or how fearfully they avoid action where Johnny behaves with nihilistic abandon. Just as Johnny is a product of abuse, society's chronic mistreatment of women contributes—along, perhaps, with primal instinct—to these women's masochistic attraction to Johnny, whose anger and decisive action project strength (it's equally clear that Johnny preys on the emotionally vulnerable). Cartlidge and Sharp give vintage Leigh performances—in other words, they skillfully portray emotionally naked urban London characters struggling to thrive and survive. Leigh's extensive use of improvisation in rehearsal led to a razor-sharp final script, endlessly blooming with memorable dialogue that—while never less than credibly naturalistic—proves thematically fertile.
Case in point—this jag from Johnny: "I'm never bored. That's the trouble with everybody - you're all so bored. You've had nature explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the living body explained to you and you're bored with it, you've had the universe explained to you and you're bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn't matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it's new as long as it's new as long as it flashes and fuckin' bleeps in forty fuckin' different colors. So whatever else you can say about me, I'm not fuckin' bored." To Johnny, the human condition is untreatable, except by the inevitable apocalypse, and yet, he has thus far avoided suicide or hermitry. It may be on life support, but Johnny still has hope that something—or someone—in the modern world can give him comfort.
Naked is a film that intentionally looks dark and grotty, but it has never looked so well resolved on home video as it does in its Blu-ray release from Criterion. Macroblocking has been banished from the shadows, film grain has tightened a bit for sharper detail and textures, color is spot-on, and the film element has never looked cleaner. The audio has likewise been cleaned up for Criterion's DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which ably presents the all-crucial dialogue (which also comes with optional subtitles for the dialect-impaired).
Bonus features are typically extensive, beginning with a fascinating 1994 commentary with director Mike Leigh and actors David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge.
In the 2005 video interview "Neil LaBute on Naked" (12:44, HD), playwright, screenwriter and director LaBute gives his take on Leigh and draws comparisons between the two men's artistic output.
The 2000 BBC program The Art Zone: “The Conversation” (36:36, HD) finds novelist Will Self in conversation with Leigh.
Leigh's 1987 short film "The Short and Curlies" (17:08, HD) features David Thewlis and Alison Steadman, and comes with optional commentary by Leigh.
In addition to the theatrical trailer, the disc comes with a sixteen-page booklet including essays from film critics Derek Malcolm and Amy Taubin, photos, film credits and tech specs.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer