review for Naked on AllMovie

Naked (1993)
by Craig Butler review

Both hailed and criticized for its bleakness and its basically brutal treatment of women, Naked is an intensely powerful and disturbing motion picture experience. Director Mike Leigh is making a pull-no-punches statement about late 20th century Britain, specifically about the manner in which social systems enable (and allegedly encourage) the strong to abuse the weak. This includes Johnny, a down-and-out drifter with a keen intellect and razor-sharp wit. Victimized by this system, he in turn takes his anger out on those weaker than he, generally women and specifically those who express feelings of warmth or concern toward him. The brutality with which Johnny (and others) treat many of the women in the film is difficult to take; indeed, much of the film is challenging to watch, as there is a rawness and hopelessness that permeates the film. This is leavened by a great deal of humor, as Johnny's brilliant mind can always come up with surprising and amusing comments; but even the humor is of a black or mean bent. Many will be turned off by all of this, but many will also find it exhilarating, thanks to David Thewlis's brilliant acting and Leigh's assured and masterly handling of the material. Thewlis gives one of the most impressive screen performances of the 1990s; his Johnny may be mean, bitter, and almost unbearably angry, but he can also be charming, witty, and even at times sympathetic. Thewlis conveys the quiet desperation that lies beneath the character's unpleasant characteristics, and makes the viewer feel for him, even as he feels repulsed. It is a fascinating portrait. Naked is often horrible to watch, but those who can do so without looking away will be amply rewarded.