All the Little Animals


             Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas (THE LAST EMPEROR)
     makes his long-delayed directing debut with a tale that draws on folk
     myths and allegory. Basically a three-hander, it focuses on Bobby
     (Christian Bale), a brain-damaged young man whose mother has just
     died and whose unscrupulous stepfather (Daniel Benzali) is plotting
     to trick him out of his inheritance. Bobby had been injured in a car
     accident as a boy and he retains an childlike wonder and awe. He dotes
     on a pet mouse whom he tries to keep hidden from 'The Fat' as he refers
     to his stepfather. Since there is some predictability to the story (adapted
     by Eski Thomas from Walker Hamilton's novel), it's not hard to guess
     that the mouse will meet a tragic end and that will spur Bobby to leave
     his home. While hitchhiking, Bobby is picked up by a truck driver who takes
     delight in running down animals on the road. A horrified Bobby wrestles
     for the steering wheel and a crash ensues. In the aftermath, a mysterious
     man called Mr. Summers (John Hurt at his eccentric best) appears and
     soon Bobby has become his apprentice, traveling the roadsides finding
     road kill and burying them properly. The pair form an unlikely bond
     with Summers acting as mentor and father figure to the youth. Of course,
     'The Fat' reenters the picture bringing his bracing villainy to the proceedings.

             Thomas makes some of the mistakes of a first-timer -- the pacing of
     some scenes is off and the camera work sometimes seems random. But the
     Cornish locations are beautiful and he has cast the film well. When he
     originally optioned the material in the 1960s, Thomas intended to have
     Hurt play Bobby. With the passage of time, Hurt graduated to the
     Merlin-like role of Summers. A capable player, the actor brought a bit
     of fussiness to some of the scenes, while in others he was quietly affecting.
     Because he is so good at embodying cold-blooded figures, Benzali is in
     danger of becoming typecast. Anyone who saw his rich work as the
     complicated Ted Hoffman on the short-lived ABC drama
"Murder One"
     knows that this actor has a wider range. Still just his sheer bulk and
     presence is intimidating so he was perfectly cast as the piece's villain.
     Christian Bale (along with several other British actors like Rufus Sewell,
     and Jeremy Northam) remains under appreciated. Watching the care and
     detail he spends on his characterizations, down to ticks he repeats
     throughout the film, my admiration only grows.

             
ALL THE LITTLE ANIMALS is not a perfect film but it offers much
     to contemplate. Thomas' plea for tolerance of all living things plays out
     against a drama that calls to mind several from classical mythology --
     everything from the Arthurian legend (especially in the film's Cornish
     setting) to the Bible to Shakespeare to the Greek classics. This might
     seem heavy weight for what appears a slight film but this movie, in
     spite of its flaws, remains with the viewer. For that Jeremy Thomas
     is to be commended.


                             Rating:                B-
                             MPAA Rating:        None
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.