(director/writer: Mike Leigh; cinematographer: Dick Pope; editor: Jim Gregory; music: Andrew Dickson; cast: David Thewlis (Johnny), Lesley Sharp (Louise), Katrin Cartlidge (Sophie), Greg Cruttwell (Jeremy/Sebastian), Claire Skinner (Sandra), Peter Wight (Brian), Ewen Bremner (Archie), Susan Vidler (Maggie), Robert Putt (Chauffeur), Gina McKee(Cafe Waitress),Darren Tunstall (Poster Man); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Simon-Channing Williams; The Criterion Collection; 1993-UK)

I wouldn’t care to watch it again, but it had juice and left me feeling uneasy.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”/”Topsy-Turvy”/”Another Year”)chronicles the disturbing London visit of his antihero Johnny (David Thewlis)–a self-destructive, unlikable, ranter in long philosophical musings. The embittered Johnny is a 27-year-old unemployed drifter from Manchester, who flees the scene after raping a woman in an alley and is threatened by her that her family will beat the piss out of him. The disheveled lad steals a car and lands in London to roam the streets at night stirring up trouble with his caustic wit. He tries but fails to have a go at it with a young acrimonious and inarticulate Scot couple (Ewen Bremner and Susan Vidler), and then the next day pops in to visit his ex-girlfriend from Manchester, Louise (Lesley Sharp). Not finding her home, the articulate bad boy manages to charm her sorry-assed flatmate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) with his scruffiness and soon engages in rough sex with the vulnerable spaced-out druggie. Despite treated like an object, Sophie clings to Johnny as the love of her life. When Louise, the decent working-girl clerk with low self-esteem, returns from work, she’s surprised to see Johnny and not too happy with her rat-like, prophet of doom, ex-boyfriend, who believes there’s no future because the world will end in 1999. Louise pouts because Johnny had a quickie with Sophie while Johnny, interested only in the conquest, bolts the flat when the desperate Sophie becomes over possessive thinking there’s a relationship after sex.

Johnny is such a sicko, that he only feels good when acting nasty and taking his rage out on women with sadistic sex. The troubled lad stays out for a few nights and makes a few perverse attempts at conversation with the likes of a lonely nightwatchman (Peter Wight), sitting by an inside desk at the window of an empty office building, and tries to have sex with a sad-eyed waitress (Gina McKee)–but is rejected. Finally Johnny goes on one long depressing rubbish monologue for too long and gets the shit kicked out of him by a guy (Darren Tunstall) putting posters on storefronts. Meanwhile the unemployed Sophie is visited by the arrogant sadistic wealthy playboy landlord, Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), who has his way with her in brutal sex. He’s the privileged version of Johnny, except he’s living a comfy life. When Louise returns Jeremy tries to fuck her, but is rebuffed. The cad still spends the night there even though he’s not wanted, taking advantage of his status as a landlord. When a pummeled Johnny comes crawling back, late at night, he’s nursed by Louise. Then the third roommate Sandra (Claire Skinner), the one whose name is on the lease, a nurse returning from a dull vacation in Zimbabwe, gets hysterical at what she sees and shouts the film’s funniest sick line: “It’s beyond me, the way you girls choose to live your lives.” Finally Louise gets enough spine to get rid of the landlord by threatening to castrate him with the kitchen knife. Never learning why Johnny came to London, the naive Louise thinks he came for her and the film ends with Louise ready to receive another hurtful lesson in disappointment.

Much of the film is executed with improvisational dialogue, Leigh’s special way of shooting.

It’s a cruel, misanthropic pic, that’s overlong, too bleak and hardly entertaining, but if you ever wanted to see losers up close this harrowing pic does a masterful job of observing them and letting you feel their pain. All the characters are flawed, some are so self-loathing and violent you feel like taking a shower afterwards to wash off the filth they threw your way, while others are merely hard to relate to as vics that you wish had more backbone and self-respect. What can’t be denied is the film’s savage power, its sharp wit, its pungent creepy urban atmosphere and cruel depiction of the unhappy single urban working-class looking for some spark in their lives of quiet desperation. I wouldn’t care to watch it again, but it had juice and left me feeling uneasy.

The electrifying performance of Thewlis, earned him the best actor award at Cannes; while Leigh took home the honors for his directing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”