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Todd Field's second excursion into middle-class unease, after his intelligent but overrated In the Bedroom, unfolds at a leisurely, insidious pace. It posits a suburb full of hypocrites busily persecuting their local child molester (a compellingly creepy Jackie Earle) so as not to face up to their own subterranean secrets and desires. Adapted by Field and Tom Perotta from Perotta's novel, Little Children divides its time between melodrama and black comedy, uneasy bedfellows in a movie that solicits serious sympathy for its wounded souls, adulterous lovers played by Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. Having made its pitch for life, liberty, and the pursuit of romantic happiness, this overly long movie gathers itself into a moue of petit-bourgeois disapproval and deals out the wages of sin with zealous overkill. Freud himself would have found the unmanning of the most damaged "little child" in town a tad literal-minded.


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