Film review – All or Nothing (2002)

English director Mike Leigh (Naked, Topsy-Turvy) seems right at home with All Or Nothing since it is another “English Miserablism” film about bleak and unhappy lives of the working class; obligatorily shot with documentary style cinematography (grey being the dominant colour). Through the daily struggles of three families living in the same block of flats, All or Nothing portrays all the familiar socio-realist family drama themes of poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, marital breakdown, troubled teenagers, unwanted pregnancies and abusive relationships.

Timothy Spall delivers a standout performance as Phil, the sad and kind mini-cab driver who seems incapable of expressing his love for his equally unhappy family. His occasional musing on the meaning of life portrays a wise and once passionate man who has succumbed to a life of defeat and monotony. 

All or Nothing is essentially about people who have lost the ability to express their feelings for each other due to a life of disappointment and pointlessness. Similar to Leigh’s most accomplished film Secrets & Lies, All or Nothing is extremely powerful when characters finally pour out their fears, hopes and love for each other in a tidal wave of emotion. While there is essentially nothing wrong with All or Nothing, there is also nothing special about it as we have seen it all before.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 175, 2003

© Thomas Caldwell, 2003