Do you remember the Magic Eye books that were all the rage in the '90s? The books contained autostereograms, which made it appear 3-D images were embedded within a 2-D page. Not everyone could see the hidden images. To some, they appeared with ease. Others had to work at it once the process of how to view the images was explained. Everyone else was left to grumble and scratch their head over not getting what the fuss was all about. The first book came out in North America in 1993, which is the same year Mike Leigh's 'Naked' was released. While I learned how to see the Magic Eye images, 'Naked' leaves me grumbling and scratching my head over what people see in it.
When we first meet Johnny (David Thewlis), the camera runs up on him as he's in an alleyway having consensual sex with a woman, but it soon goes too far for her liking. This type of sexual disconnect occurs frequently between different parties throughout the film. Scared by the woman's threats, he steals a car and leaves Manchester for London, where former girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp) lives. He meets her roommate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), charming his way into the flat, her bed, and unintentionally, her heart.
However, Johnny fails to perform in bed, possibly in part because of Sophie's willingness to be with him since he doesn't appear to like himself much, which is understandable as he's got nothing to feel good about. He's 27 years old, though his hard living and poor hygiene make him appear like he's 40. He's a very intelligent man, as his wonderful bits of dialogue reveal. He sees himself above everyone and manipulates others when he can, yet he's not smart enough to figure out how to make it in life. His self-loathing is turned outward, transmitting his anger and disgust at the world.
Only after a few hours of being together, Sophie reveals the emptiness in her life and clings so hard, Johnny takes off into the night, coming across fellow lost travelers. He meets Archie and Maggie, a young Scottish couple, individually because they can't find each other. Archie's accent is so thick Johnny had trouble understanding him, and I had to turn on the captions. Like Johnny, they have no money are struggling in the city.
Brian is a security guard in an empty office space. With no one to talk to and seeing Johnny resting against the building doors, Brain brings him inside and Johnny talks about things like time, the universe, and evolution. He shows Johnny a woman in a building across the way who dances in front of her window dressed in just a robe. Being the one of the few things he's good at, Johnny heads over to seduce her, but the woman turns the tables, not the scared, frail person she pretended to be, and Johnny becomes uncomfortable with her requests. When he needs a place to stay, he returns to the flat and works on a plan for his future.
David Thewlis gives an outstanding performance that carries the viewer through the film, so good and unique it brings to mind Malcolm McDowell in 'A Clockwork Orange' and Robert De Niro in 'Taxi Driver'. 'Harry Potter' fans should get a kick when Johnny talks of being a werewolf. Thewlis is extremely captivating and so large a figure in the story it's disappointing on the rare occasions he's not in a scene. I just wish it had been in a better film. While the actors do a fine job being in the moment, there's no sense of who these characters are beyond these moments. Leigh workshops scenes with actors before filming and that is certainly evident here because the scenes feel like a bunch of acting pieces put together rather than a story taking place and being told.
Some have been critical of the misogyny in the film. If it had just been Johnny's exploits, the complaints could have been argued with, but it's hard to deny the charge with actions of the one-dimensional character, Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), who comes off like a British version of Brett Eatson Ellis' 'American Psycho'. He is upper-middle class to Johnny's (non-)working class and is also a seducer of women that he doesn't care for them. But where Johnny interactions with women turn pathetic, Jeremy's are disgusting. As Louise and Sophie's landlord, he comes to visit and rapes Sophie in some disturbing scenes. What adds to the difficulty of what has taken place is the fact that Sophie refuses to tell the police and he stays the night at the flat while Louise and Sophie lay cowering in the former's bed overnight. Roommate Sandra (Claire Skinner) arrives towards the latter part of the film. She appears to be the one strong character, but doesn't have a sexual situation to react to, so it's unclear what her reaction would have been.
Competently made from a technical standpoint and Thewlis' strong lead performance aside, my inability to see writer/director Mike Leigh's intention with 'Naked' and the discomforting nature of many of the scenes keep me from recommending it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Naked' (#307 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is 16-page booklet containing the essays "Desperate Days" by Derek Malcolm and "The Monster We Know" by Amy Taubin.
Supervised and approved by Mike Leigh, the video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The liner notes reveal the "transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive. The image appears consistently clean, with mild grain, and dirt free thanks in part to the following systems: MTI's DRS, Pixel Farm's PFClean, and Digitial Vision's DVNR.
A portion of the film takes place during night exteriors, which allows the fine quality of the blacks to be demonstrated. Shadow delineation is quite good. Whites are bright and clear as seen at the gym and spa. Dick Pope's cinematography features earth tones that come through in strong, dull hues. Fine details can be seen in pores and facial hair. The texture of clothing, like Sophie's fishnet outfit, also comes through well. There is occasional softness likely due to the source and a slight bit of aliasing seen in the sheet pattern as camera moves in as Johnny and Louise lie in it.
The audio is available in a Dolby 2.0 and "was remastered at 24-bit from the Lt/Rt magnetic print master. Any defects were removed with Pro Tools HD and AudioCube's integrated workstation.
The film is dialogue heavy, which sounds clear, though some of the accents may cause difficulty to American ears, particularly Archie's. Andrew Dickson's score is the most dynamic element of the soundtrack. The cello, which gains fullness coming through the LFE, and harp used in his arrangements ring out. All sound elements are balanced well together in the mix.
For those who don't mind the strong subject matter of this independent film, Thewlis' brilliant lead acting and the care with which The Criterion Collection has created this Blu-ray release, 'Naked' might be worth your time.