The gritty London crime thriller is a genre somewhat overcooked in British cinema and on the verge of being burnt for good – and when gearing yourself up to indulge in yet another addition to this particular variety of film, a rolling of the eyes is the natural reflex – yet in George Isaac’s defence, the producer of Kidulthood and Adulthood has done a commendable job in taking an obvious, unsubtle narrative and making it feel rather unique, in his directorial debut All Things to All Men.
Rufus Sewell plays a corrupt, veteran cop called Parker, who intends to take down long-term adversary and seemingly unassailable crime lord Joseph Corso (Gabriel Byrne), by staging a robbery and using the gangster’s own drug-addicted son Mark (Pierre Mascolo) as bait. However this dangerous game of cat and mouse takes an unexpected turn, as Riley (Toby Stephens) – a former assassin hired to take part in this counterfeit heist – becomes aware that he is being used by both sides, as Parker and Corso attempt to vanquish each other once and for all.
All Things to All Men opens with a sequence presenting a quaint London landscape to the viewer, and the film continues very much in this spirit, feeling very similar to a tourist ad. At every cut away we are shown a notable London landmark, and when the characters meet up it’s never just down a back alley, but in Leicester Square or at Battersea Power Station. One character pays £40 to go on the London Eye just to make a phone call. That said, Isaac does a good job in depicting London in a flattering light as opposed to the typical gritty, dark aspect we so often see in such films. Instead this plays out as a celebration of the city, showing off its picturesque quality.
The story, however, isn’t quite so unique or imaginative, bearing palpable similarities to the recent Eran Creevy caper Welcome to the Punch, with few surprises in the narrative. In a clear attempt to rectify this, Isaac is guilty of bringing in perhaps one twist too many, and although evidently thriving in being an intelligent crime drama, it loses the audience at points by trying to be too clever. The script is also inclined to verge on the melodramatic, detracting from the realism at hand with a variety of throwaway lines that are simply too contrived. When characters are on their last legs, instead of screaming for help or crying out for their closest friends and families, their dying breath consists of uttering a witty one liner relating to something irrelevant that had happened earlier on.
Fortunately the mediocre screenplay is brought to life by the fantastic cast, adding a rich touch of gravitas and prestige to proceedings – with Byrne the stand-out performer. Even Neil Maskell gets involved, as an actor who is fast becoming the Frank Harper of our generation. If you make a British film and he’s not in it, you’re doing something wrong. Meanwhile, a compelling element in this feature is that there is no determinable line between the good guys and the bad guys, as everyone involved has a mean streak, and you soon realise that you aren’t rooting for anyone in particular. Given Isaac’s inclination to throw in a surprise or two, you never know who to trust.
All Things to All Men is relentless and entertaining in its fast paced narrative: a film that allows no respite from beginning to end. Isaac reserves the right to offer this non-stop approach given the modest running time – any longer and it would simply be too much. It’s a more than decent crime drama, and although offering little extra to what we have seen before, the array of strong performances ensure this is a worthy British thriller, and marks a promising start to Isaac’s directorial career.