After sexually assaulting a woman back in his homeland, Johnny (David Thewlis) runs for the hills. And by “the hills”, I mean, Manchester where he’s going to try and find his ex-girlfriend for no real reason other than to bug her and cause some extra havoc along the way. However, the word “havoc” doesn’t exactly fit Johnny’s persona as he’s the type of dude that is a lot smarter and knowing than you might believe after the first 20 seconds of the movie, or how he dresses and walks around aimlessly. As Johnny’s “adventure” continues on, we begin to get to know more and more about him, his thoughts, his feelings, and just what the hell he even feels like doing with his life; probably more than I ever expected to stick around for.
Reviewing this movie is going to be a bit of a challenge because I have yet to make up my mind as to whether this was a dark comedy with dramatic elements, or a full-on drama, that just so happened to make me laugh. I’m still racking my brain around which either one this flick is and what Mike Leigh was trying to go for. That’s more of a knock against me than his actual directing because some of the things that this character Johnny says, had me laughing because I simply “got it”. Others, however, may not think so much, which is where the confusion of what genre this movie is from comes in.
However, finding a genre out for this sort of movie doesn’t matter because the flick is still good, well-written, and interesting to watch, even if you don’t think so until you read all of the positive buzz about it. See, going into this movie, I knew it was going to be good, and coming from the sturdy-hands of Leigh, I knew it was going to be all talky and feel all natural. I love that about Leigh’s approach, as it’s so rare that he ever steps in front of the story and the characters that inhabit it; he just lets it be told, the way it was meant to be told, and he doesn’t ever get in the way. Good man, because I know plenty of directors that probably would have had enough with all of this improv, and at least put his foot down, stating “enough is enough”. None really come to mind, but they’re out there and Leigh isn’t one of them.
No, no, no. Leigh is a special type of director that makes movies, not just for the sake of making movies, but to bring out emotions and feelings within a society that may, at times, seem to be falling apart from the inside out, without them even knowing it themselves. That’s the idea that this flick taps into very well; the idea that life in the underbelly of post-conservative England, especially during the 90’s, wasn’t pleasant, and was filled with just as many contradictions and grimness than you can shake a stick at. People were constantly on the streets, out of jobs, sad, and hopeless for what was to come. They were just waiting to see when the world would end, just so they could remove the sad existence of life they have on the planet.
It’s a dark mind-set to have placed, but it’s one that Leigh attacks with full force and never loses sight of. Sure, his movie may seem to meander at times because all it is is a loner having a bunch of random bits of conversations with people he doesn’t really know or want to know, but it’s very intriguing to actually have to hear and listen to what these people have to say, and how they respond to the thoughts and ideas of what a normal, average young adult would be thinking about and contemplating around the same time. Of course Leigh knows what he’s trying to say, but the people he associates himself with don’t, and he tries to show them in any way that he possibly can. At all costs really.
This also actually brings into discussion the way Leigh filmed this movie, which isn’t very different from other movies of his, but still brings up plenty of interesting ideas of what was meant to be said with this flick. See, rather than having almost every character improv their rumps off in front of the camera with Leigh standing behind it and just filming whatever he could get, he allowed each and every worker to make up their own lines and feelings, rehearse it for quite some time, and then eventually start filming and putting it altogether. At times, this approach works because a lot of what these characters have to say, feel honest and brutal, but sometimes it doesn’t mix well with all of the over-the-top theatrics that Leigh throws in himself.
Case in point, the whole subplot featuring the supposed land-lord of Johnny’s ex, Jeremy G. Smart as played by Greg Cruttwell. Cruttwell is good at playing this evil, sinister bastard that has no care or affection for the women that he seduces, and only cares about making them feel the pain and agony that he feels on a day-to-day basis. And that’s all fine and dandy, but the story never really has much to do with Johnny’s or anybody else’s for that matter. He shows up from time-to-time, takes our minds off of Johnny’s life, and gets us involved with something that seems to be pushing the envelope, only for the sake of doing so. No reason or rhyme whatsoever. Probably would have worked in a flick that was centered solely than this, but being the case that it is in this movie and gets in the way of everything, it’s a bit bothersome to have to deal with, especially since Johnny himself is such an interesting character overall.
The reason why Johnny is such an interesting character isn’t because of how sharp and smartly Leigh has written him to be, but because David Thewlis is such a master at playing him, that it still makes me ponder the reason as to why he didn’t even get an Oscar nomination for his work of brilliance here. Considering that most of what Johnny says and feels, is mainly through Thewlis and Thewlis alone, you feel closer and closer to this character, even though you know you shouldn’t. Johnny’s not a nice guy and as the first shot of this movie may have you think, is a total and complete dick-bag that you do not want to ever be around for five seconds, let alone, for a whole two hours. However, Leigh throws him in front of our faces and never asks us to gain sympathy for him or what he’s brought onto himself.
Instead, we just get a portrait of a character who is just being himself, and nothing but. You rarely ever see that with a movie, and it was a big surprise that Leigh or Thewlis didn’t try to sap him up in any way, in order to make us care for him. He’s a character, being a character, in all his fullest and complete form. And to top all of that off, Thewlis is actually pretty damn hilarious, not just because of the lines he delivers, but by how dry and ironic he is half of the time. Everybody else around him seems so serious and dramatic, that once Johnny comes through to shake things up a bit, you realize that the world needs more humans like Johnny; minus all of the women-torturing, violence, anger, and such. Then again though, the world needs more anger and more people to shake a big, middle-finger to the Man, so maybe that’s what Johnny represents and what we should represent as well?
Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Consensus: At times, it can be a ponderous experience, but taken as a whole, and especially as a meditation on the way our youth views the rest of the world and society altogether, Naked is an interesting flick to watch and listen to, made all the better by David Thewlis’ brilliant piece of acting as Johnny.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!
Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images