All Or Nothing (2002) – movie review

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Movie Review by Neil Ryan

Starring: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Alison Garland, James Corden, Ruth Sheen
Director: Mike Leigh

Here we go again: happy families with your host Mike Leigh. Another high quality, effectively realised serving of contemporary urban British life that’ll have cinema audiences heartily acknowledging the film’s realism whilst secretly giving thanks that the reality depicted is not their own. It’s nary a criticism to say that there is always a sense that one is doing one’s civil duty by watching a Mike Leigh film. Whilst not doubting the entertainment values and the exemplary contributions of cast and crew, it is nonetheless an emotional chore to immerse oneself in the debilitating continuity of his characters’ drab existence. To exit the cinema after viewing a Leigh film and see the excited hordes queuing to watch the latest Vin Diesel flick on a neighbouring screen is enough to bring to the fore the angst-ridden sixth form poet in anyone – leaving one feeling drunk on self-righteous worthiness.

In ALL OR NOTHING Timothy Spall plays softly spoken (nay, comatose) taxi driver Phil. He lives in a depressing council estate with his common-law wife Penny (Spall’s fellow Leigh regular Lesley Manville) and their two grown-up children. Phil’s life is in a rut and he doesn’t seem motivated to change it: he doesn’t earn as much as he should but will not make the effort to work more profitable hours, and communications between the family are at best banal, at worst non-existent or abusive.

Friends and neighbours are argumentative, alcoholic, or disturbed. Simmering beneath the surface of their words and actions is a sense of violence and enmity. Unemployment, an unplanned pregnancy, and a heart attack add to the general air of depression and dark inevitability that engulfs this predominantly sour depiction of modern life. However, it is from this apparent spiral of despair that some semblance of optimism is spawned. The cycle of aggression as a means of communication is broken and Leigh’s film actually ends on a brighter, more upbeat note. And whilst it’s not exactly all brass bands and bunting, there is enough of a sea change to leave the viewer thinking that maybe the old codger got it right.

Admirable and eye-opening, ALL OR NOTHING certainly deserves to be seen by a wide audience but it is not the kind of film to be approached lightly. Whilst ninety per cent of the trashy eye-candy on show at a multiplex can be digested at any given time with the minimum of effort, ALL OR NOTHING requires a commitment of thoughtfulness and involvement on the part of the viewer: a willingness to wallow in misery and depression for the best part of two hours – and thus, ultimately, feel all the better for it.

4 out of 6 stars