All or Nothing

I won some free passes to see Mike Leigh’s latest film, All or Nothing (2002) last night and so off we went. This film played at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September but I gave it a miss, since I’d heard that Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen (2002) was mining the same turf more effectively. Having seen both films now, I’d have to say that I agree with that assessment.

Leigh mainstay Timothy Spall plays the aptly-named Phil Bassett, a man who could teach “hangdog” to a Bassett Hound. Though I love him as an actor, in this film he plays such a monotonously sad character that it’s hard to sympathize with him. He’s so disconnected from his wife and children, and they’re so disconnected from each other, that the film is unrelentingly bleak. Though a crisis toward the end of the film revives some hope, it’s almost too little too late for this bunch.

The characters in Sweet Sixteen had so much more fire inside that it made you root for them, even when they made the wrong choices. Unfortunately, the title All or Nothing doesn’t seem to describe the characters in the film at all. Mostly, they’re just muddling along.

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