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All Or Nothing

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: All Or Nothing

Starring: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville
Director: Mike Leigh
Rated: R
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Alison Garland, James Corden, Ruth Sheen, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Sam Kelly, Kathryn Hunter, Sally Hawkins

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

"Life's a bitch and then you die." This aphorism is never spoken in Mike Leigh's latest look into working class trials, nor, ultimately, does Leigh draw that conclusion. But his leading character, the wonderful Timothy Spall, does say at one point, "We are born alone. We die alone." Not original, but then, the down-home people like taxi drivers, supermarket checkers, and custodians of nursing homes are not about to quote Kierkegaard.

But philosophies they do have, nonetheless. Following a departure with his biopic about Gilbert and Sullivan three years ago, Mike Leigh returns to his signature observations of reality in "All Or Nothing," which, if Charles Dickens did not have a copyright of the title could have been called "Bleak House." And life is bleak bleak bleak in the three families observed by Mr. Leigh, its writer-director, whose "Secrets & Lies" might have been filled with more intrigue and powerful emotions while this time around Leigh is consumed with pathos. Leigh takes us to a working class development in Southeast London to look at three families and the problems brought on not only by the lack of money but by the frustrations engendered by the boredom of unskilled work and the obstinacy of their teen-aged children.

With an ensemble led by Timothy Spall as Phil and Lesley Manville's as Phil's common-law wife, Leigh centers his attention on Phil, giving us a strong feeling for what a day's work is like for a taxi driver with his diverse assemblage of passengers. He injects humor into one conversation between the laconic man behind the wheel and one English-speaking French woman who wonders aloud whether his kids are a fat as he is and who chastises him for taking her through a tunnel without warning her in advance of the route. As if the grind of his job were not enough, at home he suffers the indignities of hearing his obese son Rory (James Corden) regularly tell his parents to bugger off, nor can he feel much pride in his equally obese daughter Rachel (Alison Garland), who is a cleaner in a home for the aged and is conversationally virtually catatonic.

While we watch the shenanigans of his neighbors, as well who include the always drunk Carol (Marion Bailey) and her daughter Samantha (Sally Hawkins) who comes on to boys as a tease; and the relatively happy supermarket checker Maureen (Ruth Sheen), who daughter Donna (Helen Coker) is knocked up and beaten by her jerk boy friend Jason (Daniel Mays)-Leigh's main concern is the loss of love between Phil and Penny and the way that a family crisis offers hope of redemption.

Those who know Timothy Spall's work those lucky enough to have seen him in other Mike Leigh films such as "Life is Sweet," "Secrets and Lies" and "Topsy Turvey" realize that a film like "All Or Nothing" is worth seeing even if just for the chance of watching his expressive, unshaven face register terminal resignation. When he turns off both his cell phone and the line leading to the office of the taxi manager, we expect him to depart his vale of tears and perhaps, were it not for an accident that offers the hope of renewed love at least for a while between him and his family, that would be his expected fate. The principal drawback to the movie is the lack of subtitles, and while this is not a Ken Loach job which would be impossible to comprehend without that assist, the low volume of speech throughout the story requires a keen and attentive audience ear. "All Or Nothing" seems about as valid a picture of the desperation of a working-class family, particularly one whose daily grind has erased most traces of love, as you can get.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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