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All or Nothing Reviews

After a successful foray into the period opulence of TOPSY-TURVY (1999), writer-director Mike Leigh returned to the milieu for which he's best known: the hardscrabble housing-block world of Britain's contemporary working class. The setting is a typically cheerless council flat in Southeast London, where Phil (Timothy Spall), a taxi driver with Gladiator Cars, and his common-law-wife, Safeway supermarket cashier Penny (Lesley Manville), live with their two children, Rachel (Alison Garland) and Rory (James Corden). Rachel works as a housekeeper at a nursing home while morbidly obese Rory does nothing but lie on the couch, watch TV and insult his mother. Phil's co-woker, Ron (Paul Jesson), lives a few doors down with his alcoholic wife, Carol (Marion Bailey). Their wayward — and unemployed — daughter, Samantha (Sally Hawkins), spends most of her day hanging around the courtyard, where she flirts with boys and is ogled by a disturbed teenager (Ben Crompton) nursing a desperate need to prove his love for her. Penny's co-worker, Maureen (Ruth Sheen), also lives in a nearby flat, and is single-handedly raising her own ungrateful child, Donna (Helen Coker). Maureen manages to keep her sunny side up, even after the corrosively belligerent Donna announces that she's two months pregnant by Jason (Daniel Mays), her abusive lout of a boyfriend. The film begins as a carefully balanced ensemble piece that deftly fields issues of loneliness and companionship, and ends as a tightly focused portrait of a relationship that's reached critical mass: Phil becomes convinced that Penny no longer loves him, and she might be inclined to agree. But the focus on Phil and Penny comes at the expense of the other two story lines, and characters we've come to care deeply about, thanks to the uniformly excellent performances that are the hallmark of Leigh's character-driven films. In an outstanding ensemble, Spall is particularly good: Aside from occasional fatalistic observations about fate and the dreary pointlessness of it all, his character actually has very little dialogue. But his hangdog, slightly dazed expression is itself a silent soliloquy; he wears the face of a man who seems stunned by his own unhappiness as he tries to come to grips with the meaning — or meaninglessness — of his life.