Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: NAKED

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
July 12th, 2011

Mike Leigh is a filmmaker with very few peers within his own generation. Be it the upbeat, energetic comedy that is HAPPY-GO-LUCKY or the meditative ensemble piece ANOTHER YEAR, the nearly 70 year old director has been hard at work at crafting one of the most intriguing filmographies in cinema since 1972. Including some definitive classics (TOPSY-TURVY and VERA DRAKE are among his best), no film within Leigh’s canon may be as beloved or as genuinely special as his 1993 masterpiece, the devastatingly brash NAKED.

Starring David Thewlis, NAKED follows the story of Johnny, a drifter with a penchant for philosophy and prophecy. In the wake of a rape, which opens the film, our lead flees to London to avoid a beat down, only to meet up with an old flame. Spouting off rant after rant ranging from politics to religion, NAKED finds the viewer thrust into a world not broad in scope, but instead intensely intimate. The cinematic manifestation of the phrase “character study,” this film is not quite like anything we’ve seen from Leigh.

When discussing NAKED, it’s hard to start a conversation anywhere else other than its lead, Thewlis. The character of Johnny is inherently atrocious. A brutal sexist, the character is also the embodiment of cynicism, and just as opportunistic. Never one to let an opportune time go to waste, Johnny attempts to bring each moment of his existence right into his hand, and mold it for his own bidding. Thewlis embodies this sense of knowing coldness with an equally raw and visceral performance. A pitch-perfect performance, Thewlis is able to use both the most bombastic as well as the most quaint moments and inject them with this sense of percussive energy. Simply put, it’s one of the better leading man performances from a decade that may not be remembered as the best that cinema had to offer.

Joining Johnny on this trip through life are his ex-girlfriend Louise, her roomie, and then a man by the name of Jeremy, who plays like our hero, but without his admittedly skewed moral compass. Best described as an evolved version of Johnny, Jeremy is a misogynistic sociopath, a human tornado tearing through the lives of the people he comes into contact with almost as quickly as he enters them. Greg Cruttwell stars here as Jeremy, and is absolutely fantastic. An admittedly one note performance, the character himself is a tad one note, but that one note is played, and played repeatedly, to great avail. Both Jeremy and Johnny are stark looks at an era, and generation, that found themselves berated by a cavalcade of economic issues under the watchful eye of Margaret Thatcher, and both are cinematic catnip, keeping the audience enraptured within the frame like a collection of coked out kittens. The two women, Lesley Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge, are also rather great, and really play well opposite these two psychotic lost souls. Both have a certain bluntness about them, but also one can tell that Johnny genuinely has affection for them, despite how impossible that may seem. The cast is definitely this film’s strongest suit.

But that may do Leigh a disservice, as he is also at the top of his game here. An inherently dark feature, Leigh’s direction is equally intimate and straightforward, with only the occasional visual flourish. It is within these moments, when Leigh really lets his camera work, that the film pops off the screen. However, in the quieter directorial moments where Leigh simply lets the raw performances given by his all-star cast really take control.  t’s one of Leigh’s most deftly directed films, and combine that with the films darkly beautiful cinematography, and you have a truly gorgeous piece of filmmaking.

That said, the film isn’t without flaw. The primary issue that befalls this film is the usage and composition of its score. Penned by Andrew Dickson, the film’s score does work somewhat during the film, but ultimately becomes more of an overbearing crutch than anything. Used primarily to bridge sequences together, the music pops up in awkward moments and is also far too loud for its own good. It’s an oddly bombastic element of an otherwise small piece of filmmaking. Toss in the long-ish runtime, and while the film does have a great pace, it may not work for everyone, primarily since the film’s narrative doesn’t amount to the most revelatory conclusion. It’s a character study, so the pacing may not work for some.

And that’s just the actual film. This release as a whole is definitely a must-own. With the upgrade to Blu-ray comes a really great increase in video and audio quality, making the film really worth the extra cash for those who have it in standard definition. The Blu-ray comes with a fantastic commentary with Leigh, Thewlis, and Cartlidge, an informative audio supplement that adds a lot of re-watchability to this release. An interview with director Neil LaBute adds a really cool retrospective to the release, as does an episode of The Art Zone with Leigh. However, it’s THE SHORT AND CURLIES, a short comedy starring Thewlis that is the most intriguing supplement. It’s a fantastic short film, and a really interesting supplement for the release. Toss in the commentary with Leigh that that film comes with, and you have a release that may not be new, but the upgrade to HD is reason enough to make the purchase here.

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