Friday September 3, 1999
So many movies require their 20-something heroes to be super-aggressive that it seems churlish to jump all over "All the Little Animals," whose protagonist is a brain-damaged 24-year-old man-child whose soft, sweet personality makes Forrest Gump seem like Rambo by comparison.
We meet Bobby (Christian Bale, who inhabits this man-child role with impressive, engaging thoroughness) on the day of his mother's funeral. Despite his age, he's got the sensibility of a gifted, overly sensitive 8-year-old. He was "never right again" after a childhood head injury.
He's not so dim, however, as to be unaware of the cruelty and greed of the stepfather he calls "the Fat." (Is poor Daniel Benzali doomed to play these scary roles for the rest of his life?) Fat presses Bobby to sign over the family department store, threatening to institutionalize the reluctant lad if he doesn't. For good measure, this monster-in-a-suit murders Bobby's pet mouse.
Bobby leaves his gated suburban London mansion and literally heads for the hills, where he encounters a strange man (John Hurt, natch) who wanders the roads looking for dead animals killed by motorists. He doesn't eat them. He gives them proper burials. Bobby, enchanted, has found both a home and a calling. Somehow, though, you just know he hasn't seen the last of the Fat.
Veteran producer (of films by Bernardo Bertolucci and David Cronenberg, among others), Jeremy Thomas makes his directing debut with this adaptation of a novel by the late Walker Hamilton, which became a cult favorite among ecologists and, presumably, young readers of the Aquarian age who found its fairy-tale trappings irresistible. The picturesque Cornwall countryside provides some magic. But there's something plodding and uncomfortably strident about "Little Animals" that keeps the audience from sharing, much less understanding, Bobby's enchantment.
There's also something bizarre, at the very least, about the story's moral center--Hurt's Mr. Summers--who finds critters more worthy of preservation than people. (Reasons for which are eventually submitted in tortuous detail.) Still, Hurt, adding yet another eccentric to his impressive gallery of idiosyncratic portrayals, manages to make Summers' itchy misanthropy seem somewhat rational.
All the Little Animals, 1999. R for some violence. A Lions Gate Films presentation. Director-producer Jeremy Thomas. Executive producer Chris Auty. Screenplay by Eski Thomas, based on a novel by Walker Hamilton. Cinematographer Mike Molloy. Editor John Victor Smith. Music Richard Hartley. Production designer Andrew Sanders. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. John Hurt as Mr. Summers. Christian Bale as Bobby. Daniel Benzali as De Winter (the Fat). James Faulkner as Mr. Whiteside.