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With: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Paul Jesson, Alison Garland, Helen Coker, Marion Bailey, Sally Hawkins
Written by: Mike Leigh
Directed by: Mike Leigh
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexuality
Running Time: 128
Date: 05/17/2002

All or Nothing (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Apartment Complex

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'd like to state, before I go any further, that I hold firm in my belief that Mike Leigh is our greatest living British film director, and ranks just after Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell on the all-time list.

That said, I have to admit that his latest film, All or Nothing, makes even his dreariest movie so far, 1993's Naked, look like a rousing comedy. He asks a lot of his audience to make them sit through this festival of dead souls who can barely muster enough energy to hate themselves.

I wouldn't change a frame of it.

All or Nothing focuses on three families living in a smog-colored tenement building in London, but -- perhaps by virtue of his acting skill and star power -- the hangdog Phil Bassett (Timothy Spall) comes out as the lead.

Phil drives a cab for a living, and along with his co-worker and neighbor Ron (Paul Jesson), often goes for a pint after work. When he gets home, you know why. His partner Penny (Lesley Manville), a thin, once-beautiful creature berates him daily by way of normal conversation.

His two overweight kids spiral out to opposite ends of the same spectrum. Daughter Rachel (Alison Garland) broods silently, seemingly resigned to a life of nothingness, while son Rory (James Corden) cultivates anger and slovenliness, telling everyone and everything to "f--- off."

Down the way, single mother Maureen (Ruth Sheen) lives with her daughter Donna (Helen Coker) and keeps a singularly sunny attitude toward life. She works at Safeway with Penny and does ironing on the side for some extra schillings. When Donna winds up pregnant by a nasty bastard with a scar lining the side of his face, Maureen takes it in stride.

Worse off is Ron's family. His wife Carol (Marion Bailey) boozes without end and can't even manage to dial a phone anymore, and his Lolita-like daughter Samantha (Sally Hawkins) uses her trashy but considerable sex appeal for power (never for pleasure).

Using his patented improvisatory methods, Leigh fills the first 90 or so minutes of the film establishing these rich characters, all of whom have real pasts, personalities, depths and sadnesses -- as opposed to easily assigned neuroses like a twitchy eye or an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It's only then that he makes his first real plot twist. Tubby and angry, Rory suffers the equivalent of a heart attack and gets whisked away to the hospital. After a long drive to the other side of London, Phil has turned off his dispatcher and his cell phone -- just to be alone for a while with his misery. But since Penny needs to call him and can't get ahold of him, he wanders directly into the reaming of his life.

Leigh finishes the film off with a masterstroke -- a scene in which Phil's dry, concrete sorrow suddenly cracks open with hot tears and stinging truth.

All or Nothing marks Leigh's return to familiar territory, lost, ordinary souls -- such as High Hopes, Life Is Sweet, Naked, Secrets & Lies -- after 1999's radically different "Topsy-Turvy," a very odd, very long and cluttered period quasi-musical that almost everyone except me loved. I'm happy to have Leigh back.

Sure, I'd like to see more of the droll humor from Life Is Sweet (my favorite) or the toxic energy of Naked, but All or Nothing contains not one misstep. It's just that it asks us to gaze deeply into those parts of life we'd like to ignore.

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