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So how do I justify it? I could witter on about the brilliance of David Thewlis' performance, the excellent support cast, the devastatingly witty dialogue and Leigh's assured direction until the cows came home, but this still wouldn't totally do it. I can't say a lot about the plot because, well, there isn't a great deal of plot to speak of. So what is it?
I'll tell you what it is: it's the honesty of it. The brutal, searing, sickening honesty. Here is a film unafraid to hold a mirror up to the dark, venal, destructive underbelly of our society - a film that portrays relentlessly and unflinchingly a side of our character which we'd prefer to simply sweep under the carpet. It takes everything that is immoral, degenerate and depraved in modern society and smears it all over the screen in a grubby orgy of loathing. It is not simply a movie with teeth but one with rabid, venomous, acid-tipped fangs, tearing and gnashing at our pompous ideas about our own natures.
There are many movies which are fantastically enjoyable and make for a sterling night out with friends and family. This is not one of them. Naked is disturbing, unpleasant, frightening and utterly bleak. It is also quite brilliant.
This is one of the hardest films I have ever had to review. Topics such as urban alienation, career-choice unemployment, leeching, homelessness, drug taking and sexual violence would normally send me running for cover; but what we have here is so well constructed and so skilfully acted that it transcends it own headline topics.
This is a classic case of car-wreck film making: You don't praise or celebrate much, yet it is deeply fascinating and even hypnotic. People are tap dancing on the edge of a metaphorical cliff - some are there of there of their own free will.
Director Mike Leigh's semi-improvisational style doesn't always work, but here it really delivers something unique. You feel that you are watching real life even though too much happens in too short a time period for that to be the case.
This is a wandering odyssey film and features a central performance - by David Thewlis - that ranks along the best ever witnessed in cinema. How the Oscar people could have (totally) turned their back on a performance as a good as this puzzles; although the film and actor won prizes in Cannes and New York.
This is the first film I have ever seen that takes on sexual coercion in a head on fashion. People that have put themselves in a chemical or social situation where someone has something over them. The greasy upper crust landlord (Greg Cruttwell) might seem over-the-top to many but I know a few people actually like that!
(For the record his actions would be deemed illegal in real life - if you have seen the film.)
What happens to the on-screen people the day after this film ends? Has anything really changed? For Johnny - our central anti-hero - it will be just another day to duck and dive, avoid all work and wind people up using his extensive back reading.
This film investigates the existential angst as portrayed by the protagonist Johnny of what is to survive; the main character gradually reveals himself before us stripped of pretence and standing "naked" . Johnny's diatribes tinged with apocalyptic tones upon the nature of the universe and beyond are breath taking. Sex and violence under pin the narrative of this film, and with Jonny adhering to no personal boundaries he embarks upon a journey that takes the viewer upon an uneasy and ultimately rewarding journey .
The film is important as it shows the true power of the cinematic medium , and as a cultural reference to the pap produced by Hollywood; exposing the neutered offerings mainstream cinema is plagued with. This film shows Mike Leigh as a master of his art, expressed by the unique performances he elicits from his cast.
This work of genius will be stumbled across in years to come and be celebrated by later generations for its language, its mood, and its effect which makes us engage in our very existence. A true testament to a magnificent achievement.
David Thewlis is nothing short of genius as the aimless Johnny, a combustible combination of brilliance and depression, who's mere presence in anyone's purview contaminates and destroys with the effectiveness of Round-Up.
Mesmerizing and fast-paced, there is no shortage of excellence in the smaller plots and characters: Greg Cruttwell is spectacular as the pompous, nouveau-riche Jeremy, and the two female leads, Leslie Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge provide well balanced juxtaposition as two very different femmes damaged.
Not for the faint of heart, Naked will test one's own philosophy, and leave you stripped bare.
For years, I had fantasized about becoming a writer / director, and actually put forth some appreciable effort to that end. This film, Mike Leigh's incomparable, unprecedented masterwork, cured me of that fantasy. He said, and did, in two hours, all that I could have hoped to achieve in an entire career, and it became gapingly obvious to me that I had no business in this medium.
There is no "story" here, except that of the distilled essence of the hopeless pre-Millenial Western man, robbed of the promised nuclear annihilation he had always consciously feared, but subconsciously hoped for, if only to put the world out of its misery. The naked and the lost, the wandering spectre of the sentient living dead, and the pitiful yet mercifully ignorant companions that cross his path.
In this, Leigh's toughest, most uncompromising work for cinema, Thewlis turns in a stunningly uningratiating performance. He utterly immerses himself in the role of Johnny, an articulate, disenfranchised angry young man, who's escaped Manchester after a bit of rough outdoor sex turns into something a lot like rape.
Johnny flees to London to hook up with an old girlfriend Louise (Sharp). While wandering around the city he gives free rein to his unfocused rage and indulges in some further degrading sexual encounters, notably with the dippy and compliant Sophie (Cartlidge).
This is brilliant stuff, but hard to stomach. Once again Leigh proves what a big problem he has with London's bourgeoisie, particularly with his portrayal of the smooth, sexually exploitative Jeremy (Cruttwell).
Leigh gives us so little to cling to here. There is barely a symphathetic character aside from security guard Brian (Wright), who dreams of escaping to Ireland. So the viewer is stuck with the edgy autodidact Johnny. It's an immensely powerful film about self-loathing and urban alienation, but, Thewlis' remarkable performanace notwithstading, staying the two hour distance is asking for a lot, even from die-hard Leigh fans.
I like American Existential Anti-Heroes. I wasn't really prepared to confront an English Existential Anti-Hero. Wow, what a different take on a similar stimulus.
This film is a monument to gritty realism, without being self-conscious about it. You can taste this movie. But you never feel like it was faked or forced. The camera work and the lighting never get in the way. I usually notice such things, and here it was invisible and completely immersive. David Thewlis throws every bit of his body into this movie. Even the great closing credit scene.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out the fantastic black humor, especially since some people said it wasn't funny! Sophie wails in the most sustained way I have ever seen in drama. And it's hysterical, even as you're hurting with her. The frantic Scottish kid made me rewind again and again. While I agree that the "landlord" character could have been over the top, his reaction to Johnny flailing on the floor made me laugh out loud. The two characters are really barely distinguishable but that one is a dandy and the other has a fondness for the gutter. As the poster-hanger beats the crap out of our anti-hero you can't help but laugh. And then you nod along as Louise tells him he had it coming in her terrific and constant deadpan (with an occasional suggestion of a smile).
As our protagonist points out, in the end, all the books, and all the learning, and all the discussion, still don't help you understand the point of the cruel joke of life. Yes, it's an old dorm-room discussion that freshman are still having for the 1st time. But that doesn't make the question and the questioning any less desperate. It is human to cry out in pain, even when it's self-inflicted. The references to making a choice for self-destruction are throughout the dialogue, but not so much so that they hit you in the head.
Naked is depressing and euphoric at the same time. Yes it's often "awful", but how can you not cheer for someone who loves life and is trying his hardest to fully engage it? And not one character (or question) gets a pat Hollywood ending or moral -- woo-hoo!
This movie is why people can call film a legitimate art form. It provokes thought, it is drama, and it is beautiful. It thrills me.
Someone asked if the dialogue was improvised. According to IFC, Mike Leigh rehearsed with the cast for 11 weeks before writing the script, which then came to only 25 pages.