Johnny is a disturbing little film that at first appears to be about the lives of squeegee kids but soon develops into the fascinating portrait of a narcissistic a*****e. One of Johnny’s gang of street kids hocks a wristwatch for a video camera which Johnny soon commandeers. Before long Johnny is bitten by the film bug and becomes obsessed with shooting his gang of hoodlums committing crimes of escalating risk. Like past leaders of the pack, Johnny pushes his crew to their nerves end to create his vision of cinéma vérité at its most criminal, not only breaking society’s laws but breaking the spirit of his “actors”. The situations become so far out that the clan crumbles around Johnny’s head.
While this all may sound very interesting, and it is at first, the film retreads the territory it stakes out in the first 40 minutes, offering no revelations of character or plot divergences to propel the second half. The character arcs plateau and never return to earth. It occurred to me that lately audiences have been presented with more whacked-out and supposedly realistic people on the screen yet we are given little reason to believe in them because we learn nothing from them. The great exception to this theory of mine is Mike Leigh’s brutal Naked in which David Thewlis gave us a cruel, supremely unlikable character who was nonetheless irresistible. Johnny never gives us an explanation for Johnny’s behavior nor a purpose for his filmmaking. To the end he is the same person he was at the beginning. When the curtain fell I was felt like kicking a wall just as one of Johnny’s gang kicks a human body crumpled on the floor screaming, “Why? Why? Why?”