All the Little Animals | Chicago Reader

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The impressive directorial debut of Jeremy Thomas—producer of major films by Bernardo Bertolucci, David Cronenberg, Nagisa Oshima, and Nicolas Roeg, among others—is a compelling throwback to the emotional purity and directness of 19th-century melodrama and its various offshoots; though it isn't as good as D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms or Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter, these are the sort of pictures it calls to mind. The somewhat Dickensian plot, adapted by Eski Thomas (the producer-director's wife) from a novel by the late Walker Hamilton, involves an intellectually challenged animal lover (Christian Bale) who flees from his evil stepfather (Daniel Benzali) in London after his mother's death and an eccentric former bank clerk (John Hurt) he links up with on the road who devotes his life to burying animals killed by motorists. The unabashed depiction of characters so purely good or evil that their behavior virtually defies motivation demands a certain innocence from the viewer that is rarely solicited nowadays, but the film fully rewards it: Thomas has a wonderful feeling for landscape and a keen sense of storytelling that falters (and not by much) only when he overextends the plot's suspenseful finale. This isn't for everyone, but can be emphatically recommended to anyone suffering from a surfeit of cynicism at the movies.

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