You are the son of a wealthy British hairdresser. You say to your father. ‘Pop, I wanna be a movie star.’ Your father might say, ‘don’t be ridiculous – eat your soup.’ Or he might say: ‘that’s a very risky undertaking, son, but find me a hot director with a hot script who is willing to give you a decent part and we’ll talk. In the mean time, can you order off the fixed price menu, because I’m not made of it!’
I have no idea how the conversation between Toni Muscolo of ‘Toni and Guy’ fame and his son, Pierre went. But I do know that Toni became a movie producer. His film, ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN, is written and directed by George Isaac, one of the producers of KIDULTHOOD. Is this any guarantee of quality? It might if it was of the same genre. It might if George was the sole producer, the talent spotter, a creative force influencing decisions made by others, or even if he put his money where his mouth is.
A rule of producing I heard early on is ‘always gamble with someone else’s money.’ Unless, of course, you are Francis Coppola (ONE FROM THE HEART) in which case, good luck.
So George Isaac gambled with Toni’s money. How much? That’s the thing about movie accounting - you can never say. A producer might exaggerate the budget for the purpose of a tax write-off. He might do so in order to claim a bigger share of the profits when the film is sold. (‘Look how much I have to recoup!’) Actors never publically say how much they get paid for the smaller, independent films in which they appear. They do it for a favour, to fill in a schedule, or for reasons that would be indelicate – downright slanderous - to speculate. In the British Film Industry, a film’s most creative element is its balance sheet.
If you are going to make a film, it has to be ‘like’ something, preferably similar to something successful. Writers and producers remember THE DRIVER, in turn derived from the oeuvre of Jean-Pierre Melville, as an existential thriller, in which the characters were archetypes trapped in existential modes of behaviour. The driver drives, the cop chases and the woman stands looking stunning. ‘I am what I am,’ these characters declare unapologetically, or, if you prefer, like Popeye.
They remember THIEF or VIOLENT STREETS, Michael Mann’s debut feature about a safe cracker (James Caan). Actually, they probably recall one extended scene, set to the music of Tangerine Dream, and nothing else. (I know I do.) The feature of these films is: dangle a carrot in front of them, they will chase. They gotta! It is amazing that no one has looked at the crime genre and diagnosed a lot of the criminals as autistic.
Mann’s big hit, the film other filmmakers aspire to, is HEAT. Robert De Niro plays the master criminal squaring off against Al Pacino’s dedicated cop. There is mutual respect; each is dedicated to their craft. There is mutual loathing; each is opposed to the other’s philosophy. It’s the whale verses Captain Ahab. HEAT put the following movie cliché front and centre: the villain and cop are two sides of the same coin. They are interdependent.
In ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN, Isaac takes this one step further. The villain and the cop are both ‘bent’ (in the Cockney rhyming slang sense rather than the homo-erotic one), Not that we haven’t seen this before. The ‘villain’ is a jewel thief played by Toby Stephens who is coerced into doing ‘one last job’ by a corrupt policeman portrayed by Rufus Sewell. The middleman is the Merchant (Gabriel Byrne) whose associate is Cutter played by Julian Sands.
You can see how utilitarian the names are. This is, of course, a British tradition. You may know Stephen Merchant, who no doubt is descended from a long line of buyers and sellers, Mark Butcher, in whose lineage is a vendor of meat, and of Somebody Waterhouse, who may be related to people who took the piss. There are Buttermans, too, and Farmers, of course.
The plan is that the jewel thief is eliminated once the job is done. There are other double-crossings. Sewell’s copper has a partner, Dixon (Leo Gregory), who no doubt comes from a long line of Dicks. There is also a cameo from a moderately famous British actor who sits in a posh bar.
Stephens’ jewel thief visits the girlfriend of someone who got killed on one of his jobs. She’s angry with him, understandably. We, of course, root for Stephens because his character appears to care for other people.
There are no surprises, except when Isaac tries to present offices round the back of Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus as a high-end financial institution – do me a favour.
The enjoyment of the film for a Londoner like me is in recognising the locations. Let’s face it, the plot is hardly gripping. ‘Ooh, look’, I said to myself. ‘Gabriel Byrne is sitting in a hotel restaurant on Park Lane. I wonder what is advertised on the buses that can be seen through the restaurant window.’ Yes, reader, you can conclude that I was quite starved of entertainment watching this movie.
If you are going to make an existential thriller, you should build up the characters on both sides. Yes, the leads should smoulder at one another. But your sympathy should shift in what they care about. We all rooted for Vincent Hanna (De Niro) in HEAT, but he got it in the end, just as we rooted for Pacino in CARLITO’S WAY. Here, when the ‘villain’ gets it, we – I – don’t care.
ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN – a self-negating title – is a thoroughly mechanical film with some visual proficiency, obvious acting talent but no real novelty. The action sequences are not dynamic. The exotic woman is a stereotype and you never feel that all the money (of a supposed £3 million budget, according to an estimate) is on the screen. I thought when I saw it that it was one of the beneficiaries of laundered money – sometimes happens, let’s get real. This money had come from hair washes instead. It’s a loss either way. This is definitely not worth a curious look; it is nothing to nobody, except Muscolo junior who has a small and frankly inessential part that does not do him any favours.