At the center of Naked is David Thewlis as Johnny, one of the most kinetic performances ever filmed and a complex character if there ever was one. When the film begins, Johnny rapes a woman in an alley and then steals a car. But Thewlis turns him into something far more than just a thug, he’s a prophet of the apocalypse and a representative of anger in the British lower class, an antihero for his time and place as much as Travis Bickle was for 1970s New York.
Naked follows his story from that fateful night through several evenings wandering about homeless in London. He meets up with his ex-girlfriend, hooks up with her roommate and soon leaves her as well, preferring to spend his time with a security guard, a waitress and various other individuals he meets in his journeys. The film is at its most exciting simply watching him live his life. The other half of Naked focuses on his ex-girlfriends and another man (played by Greg Crutwell), a wealthy psychopath every bit as evil as Patrick Bateman, who invades their household towards the end of the picture.
The film’s script came as a result of 11 weeks of improvisatory rehearsals in which Mike Leigh gave his actors a basic premise and they worked through what their characters would do, which he then edited into a final script. For the most part, this worked wonders, especially when it came to Thewlis. However, this method also meant that characters he was less interested in don’t work well and the story’s structure is loose and rambling. In particular Leigh seems to have had little idea what to do with Crutwell, and his character’s lack of ambiguity almost always feels out of place in a picture so focused on complexity.
But Naked’s rough edges are in fact part of its charm. Leigh’s preference for realistic characters rather than likable ones makes even its bit parts shine, even when they’re uncomfortable to watch—it’s just as raw and difficult a movie today as it was in 1993. Additionally, the way neither he nor Thewlis care for brevity makes sequences feel less filmic and more like events that could actually happen. Naked is about as anti-Hollywood as a film’s sensibilities can be, but almost every moment in it is electrifying and alive in a way no focus-tested movie could match.