Johnny (David Thewlis) has no home, he has no job, and he has no friends or family. His life is never the same for long, as he wanders the streets, with only his vision. He has had his hopes crushed and his dreams drowned by life before, so now, he lives by his own code. If he wants to have sex, he rapes a woman and if he needs to travel, he steals an automobile. He does both of these deeds before he ventures to London, where he plans to drop in on an old girlfriend. Soon, he strikes up a relationship of sorts with her flatmate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). He treats her like she is worthless, screams obscene things at her, and makes it hard for anyone around him to have a moment of peace. He is soon part of a group, some as desolate as himself, others who have been able to pull themselves out of life’s pitfalls. Are Johnny’s ramblings about life the truth, or is he simply unable to cope with what his life has become?
This is a bleak movie. I’ve seen a lot of bleak movies and without question, Naked is bleak. In Naked, Mike Leigh tosses all film conventions out the window, as he often does. The result is a movie that defies traditional limitations and pushes boundaries, which I think is always welcome. That does mean that narrative is off kilter, there is barely a storyline at all, in fact. Instead, we simply watch a few lives intertwine back and forth, without much plot movement. So if you need a story that well, tells a real story, then you won’t like Naked, as it just presents us with the characters and their lives. The subject matter is dark, very dark at times, but this is realistic, as life isn’t all bright sunshine. I do think Naked is a good movie, but by the same token, I wouldn’t want to watch it on a regular basis. That being said, even with Criterion’s wonderful two disc release, Naked is more of a rental than a purchase. I know when we hear rental we think the film is mediocre, but in this case, for most people, once will be enough, even as good as Naked is.
Video: How does it look?
Naked is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I’ve seen numerous incarnations of this film on home video, from laserdisc to video tape to imported discs, but none look as good as this. As usual, Criterion spins up a restored version in a high definition digital transfer, which means fans should be thrilled. The image is so clean and crisp, you might not believe your eyes. The enhanced visuals don’t pop, thanks to the bleak visual design, but the image is excellent. This movie isn’t old at all, but it is incredible how much better this new version looks when compared to previous editions. Suffice it to say that once again, Criterion has put all others to shame with a top notch visual presentation.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included stereo option was a much better track than expected, to be sure. This was never as thin as I had figured on, instead being quite robust, at least as far as stereo tracks are concerned, that is. The music sounds terrific and sound effects come through well also, much richer than most stereo tracks, by a long shot. But the real focus is the dialogue and since it is delivered in screams, whispers, and all points in between, the track needed to be dead on and thankfully, it is. Not even a single word is lost or diminished, very crisp and always at a proper volume. This disc also includes optional English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you owned Criterion’s laserdisc of Naked, then you’ll remember the audio commentary track with director Mike Leigh and stars David Thewlis and Katrin Cartlidge. Leigh goes into great depth about his technique on the film, especially how he wanted to develop the characters. The actors discuss Leigh’s on set methods also, which provides a different perspective. I enjoyed how much time was spent on the process of improvisation, then how that improvised material evolved on screen. This release also includes two interviews with Leigh, the director’s short film The Short and Curlies, and the film’s theatrical trailer.