(director: Jeremy Thomas; screenwriter: Eski Thomas/book by Walker Hamilton; cinematographer: Mike Molloy; editor: John Victor Smith; music: Richard Hartley; cast:  Christian Bale (Bobby Platt),  John Hurt (Mr. Summers),  Daniel Benzali (Bernard ‘The Fat’ De Winter), James Faulkner (Mr. Stuart Whiteside), John O’Toole (Lorry Driver), Amanda Boyle (Des), Amy Robbins (Bobby’s Mother); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jeremy Thomas; Lions Gate; 1998-UK)

Well, if nothing else, at least the Bale performance was enticing.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dark contemporary moral fable that looks like a thriller and is certainly not a children’s movie, that’s produced and directed by Jeremy Thomas. His dad directed the ‘Carry On’ films. This is the top-level British producer’s only credit as a director. The oddball film tells us its socially maladjusted leads ‘love animals’, which makes them seem decent and vulnerable in the cold real world and especially with the evil normal people they encounter. Writer Eski Thomas bases the screenplay on the 1969 novel by Walker Hamilton, and keeps in the obsessive bent of the book that dwells on mankind’s unconscious fears.

The film is narrated by the 24-year-old Bobby Platt (
Christian Bale), whose loving mom just died. He’s a gentle lad who is brain-damaged from a childhood car accident, and is heir to a London family department store. He runs away from home to escape his abusive stepfather (Daniel Benzal) after he kills his pets and threatens to place him in a mental institution if he doesn’t sign his inheritance over to him. Bobby hitches a ride with a truck driver (John O’Toole), who tries killing a fox on the road. But Bobby grabs the wheel and the truck overturns killing the driver but leaving him unharmed in the Cornwall countryside. There he hooks up with the intelligent, eccentric, recluse Mr. Summers (John Hurt), a drop-out who has dedicated his life to burying animals killed on the road, and Bobby becomes his assistant. One night, they trade life stories. After Summers hears Bobby’s, he talks him into visiting the dreadful stepfather to sign the papers to give him the fancy store and thereby be a free man with no responsibilities. But when the good guys meet the cartoonish villain, things take an unexpected turn and there’s an unexpected happy homicidal ending.

The acting is florid, the outlandish story is a reach in credibility (even for a fable), and things seemed too schematic and heavy-handed; but there’s a gripping psychological dark side to it that for me over-rode a lot of its flaws and got me thinking this wacky film in its simplicity might have more to say than expressing its love for dead animals or its view of the world as being made up of either extremely good or bad people or as a revenge film. Armed with its heavy-going
animal-rights agenda, it also seems to want us to think about what qualities make us human or better people, and lets us see how important it is to choose the right aspirations to live your life by or else you’re wasting it. If you don’t buy that—well, if nothing else, at least the Bale performance was enticing.

All the
      Little Animals (1998)