All Or Nothing

on October 25, 2002 by Mark Keizer
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Back in familiar territory after the 1999 frolic "Topsy-Turvy," Mike Leigh delivers "All or Nothing," another deep and dark slice of dysfunctional British family life. Although some may feel he has gone to the working-class well too many times, no one cracks the brittle surface of familial bliss better than Leigh. The 58-year-old director is helped enormously by an ensemble cast that includes Leigh regulars Timothy Spall and Lesley Manville (both from "Topsy-Turvy" and 1996 Palme d'Or winner "Secrets & Lies"). American audiences may rebel against such unrelenting bleakness, but said audiences will not find a more intimate emotional portrait at their local multiplex.

Phil Bassett (Spall) is a big-hearted cab driver whose perpetual hangdog expression is testament to his joyless life. Common law wife Penny (Manville) is a supermarket cashier who has long fallen out of love with Phil. They have two obese children: Rachel (Alison Garland), who cleans floors at a hospital for the elderly, and Rory (James Corden), an angry, unemployed slob. Leigh spends the first hour introducing us to the Bassetts and the other gloomy inhabitants of their London housing complex, including fellow cashier Maureen (an excellent Ruth Sheen) and the alcoholic Carol (Marion Bailey). When one of the Bassetts suffers a medical emergency, Phil and Penny begin to shake off the cobwebs of their dead marriage. In an emotional sequence, long-festering resentments reveal themselves as husband and wife take one small but important step in repairing their relationship.

Spall is always a welcome presence and he internalizes his despair well, although at times his performance borders on the one-note. Manville is best here, a slow boil of sadness and despair that explodes at the end.

While the first hour introduces us to characters so overwhelmingly miserable the film becomes an emotional din, in the second half, Leigh sloughs off the other characters and focuses on the Bassetts, at which point "All or Nothing" hits its stride. Starring Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Alison Garland, James Corden, Ruth Sheen and Marion Bailey. Directed and written by Mike Leigh. Produced by Simon Channing-Williams and Alain Sarde. A United Artists release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 128 min

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