Tuesday, 21 January 2014

All Or Nothing (2002)

Let's commence this review by saying that Mike Leigh believes Jonathan Ross to be a bit of a twat, and that I'm inclined to agree with him.

On release of All or Nothing, Ross used both his Daily Mirror film review column and his BBC1 show Film (2002) to implore audiences to stay away from this film. He claimed it was a complete downer full of people that no one would want to see on the cinema screen.

It's a stance that completely missed the point and, apropos of nothing, I wonder if Ross is a fan of EastEnders (he's certainly had several of that programme's actors appear on his TV and radio chat shows down the years showering them with effusive praise) because, for my money, the criticism he levelled at All or Nothing can far more appropriately be levelled at that show. Unlike All or Nothing, EastEnders wallows in donwbeat and depressive storylines several times a week, enlivened by the odd spot of violence and improbably high occurrences of murder, yet the show makers always present their characters in the most mawkish and judgemental manner. All or Nothing does nothing of the sort; Leigh simply shows you a series of working class lives in a Greenwich council estate without judgement or sentimentality and its to his, and the films, credit. He also infuses it with something Ross spectacularly (and purposefully?) missed; optimism. The film is an emotional rollercoaster filled with highs and lows, scenes of despair are always shot through with snippets of hope - indeed, virtually all of its character arrive at the end of their story changed and improved from how they first appeared, unlike the inhabitants of the never ending doomfest of Albert Square.

It's not always an easy watch, occasionally its claustrophobic and some characters can be downright obnoxious and hateful (unlike Ross however I do feel cinema is a place to have such characters - did he baulk and claim cinema was no place for the Mafia hitmen of Goodfellas?) but it is a deeply rewarding watch with, I believe, one of the best assembled casts Leigh has had; the old hands of Timothy Spall (giving something of an acting masterclass here) Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Sam Kelly and Marion Bailey sharing scenes with the upcoming actors Daniel Mays, Ben Crompton, Alison Garland, Helen Coker, James Corden (actually acting at this early stage of his me me me career) and, perhaps most impressively, the brilliant Sally Hawkins who has gone on to be something of a muse to both Leigh and Woody Allen. This is her first feature for Leigh and she's exceptional as the tough but brittle Samantha, stalking the estate in her young Amy Winehouse 'finery' teasing Crompton's simple minded youth who is obsessed with her.

 Some of their characters will find a redemption and turn a corner before the film plays out and some won't, but that's life and I still believe Leigh is one of the finest directors to capture 'life' on the big screen - where it is utterly deserving of a place.

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