With "All or Nothing" Mike Leigh returns to a familiar working-class world following his splendiferous Gilbert & Sullivan bio, "Topsy-Turvy."
"All or Nothing," arguably the bleakest film of his career, is a tough go, but Leigh's depth and rigor, and his skill at inspiring accomplished portrayals that are all the more impressive for their lack of showiness, offsets to a notable degree the film's often-mined and despairing milieu.
Set over a long weekend in the lives of a family of four and some of their neighbors in a rundown South London housing project, "All or Nothing" deals with largely drab people living drab lives in drab circumstances with little or no hope of escape.
Timothy Spall's Phil is an unhandsome, unshaven, overweight, middle-aged cab driver cursed with a greater degree of awareness and vulnerability than most others in his environment.His common-law wife Penny (Lesley Manville), a trim supermarket cashier, has become absorbed in the demands of just getting by.
Their daughter is the pretty but overly plump and withdrawn Rachel (Alison Garland), who is resigned to a routine existence as a retirement-home cleaning woman. She quietly performs acts of kindness at home and at work and loses herself in books.
Her younger brother Rory (James Corden) is another matter, a seriously overweight layabout who is loud, crude and hostile.
Suddenly, an incident jolts the family out of its deepening rut, and what surfaces reveals Spall's -- who made a similar impression in "Intimacy" -- and Manville's formidable resources as actors and Leigh's skill and subtlety in drawing them out.
It is at this point that "All or Nothing" breaks through a British lower-class grimness so unrelenting as to verge on parody. While it's true that this moment perhaps smacks of wishful thinking and undeniable theatricality, there's also no telling how deep or enduring its impact upon the family will be over time.
Leigh piles up woe wider and higher than ever before. That he has done so with his usual skill, perception and alertness to relieving gestures of human tenderness and care does not keep "All or Nothing" from being a pretty glum, overly familiar business.
'All or Nothing'
A United Artists presentation in association with Alain Sarde of a Thin Man Films production. Writer-director Mike Leigh. Producer Simon Channing Williams. Executive producer Pierre Edelman. Cinematographer Dick Pope. Editor Lesley Walker. Music Andrew Dickson. Costumes Jacqueline Durran. Production designer Eve Stewart. Art director Tom Read. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes.
MPAA rating: R, for pervasive language and some sexuality.
Times guidelines: Complex adult themes and situations.
In selected theaters.