LITTLE BOY. Starring Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, Michael Rapaport, David Henrie Tom Wilkinson, Cary-Hirojuki Tagawa, Ted Levine, Ben Chaplin, Eduardo Verastegui. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde. 96 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and violence).
Little boy is a nickname for the central character in this family-oriented film, a film of values with touches of religion. It is set in the town of O’Hare in California in the first half of the 1940s, the time of the US involvement in World War II, post-Pearl Harbor, the hostility towards Japanese rounded up and interned. Little Boy is also the
Nickname for one of the atomic bombs that was dropped on Hiroshima in order to end the war.
This is very traditional filmmaking, the kind of filmmaking that was very popular in past decades, pleasing and accessible filmmaking, which critics and many in younger generations dismiss as “uninventive”. Be that as it may, this is a film which will appeal to audiences who are looking for a warm and interesting story, sympathetic characters, an acknowledgement of conflict, who want some kind of hope, even prayer and miracles. Since the popularity of The Passion of the Christ in the United States in 2004, American companies have been far more confident in making films geared to the middle American audience, offering films of faith. While some of them may seem too American and their style of sentiment for audiences outside the US, this one will probably have more general appeal.
Audiences in 2007 were charmed by small-budget film with Hispanic characters, Bella. This film is from the same director, Aleyandro Monteverde. He brings the same sentiment to this film, a touch of the fanciful, a touch of the romantic, more than a touch of the hopeful.
It is well served by the young Jakob Salvati playing the eight-year-old boy in the town of O’Hare, Pepper. Salvati is one of those screen presences who is often described as cute and appealing. And he is, able to sustain the whole drama. He is very short, Little Boy, bullied by the big kids in the town. But, he has a very close relationship with his father, shared imagination storytelling, delighting in the comic books of Black Eagle, especially enjoying a live performance at the local cinema when Black Eagle comes to town and Pepper is invited on stage and invited to will the movement of a bottle.
He does, and this leads to a religious theme, the quotation from the gospel about having faith the size of a mustard seed and being able to move mountains. There are two priests in the parish and the parish priest, Father Oliver (a sympathetic Tom Wilkinson) reflects on faith and prayer with Pepper, giving him a list of good things to do, Gospel-based, visiting the sick, feeding hungry, clothing the naked (and his being involved in a knitting bee for those without clothes). It is a pity that there is not more explicit explanation of where these injunctions come from, from the Gospel of St Matthew, but they are general enough to appeal to any person of good faith who is not necessarily Christian.
Not sharing this faith is an elderly Japanese man, Mr Hashimoto, released from internment, returning to O’Hare but the subject of disdain, enmity and, often, violence. The parish priest adds visiting Mr Hashimoto to Peppers list, not something easy because Pepper has been involved with his angry older brother and pelting the Japanese man’s house with stones. But, gradually, they form a bond.
There are flashes to the involvement of Pepper’s father in battles in the Philippines, and his being a prisoner of war, with the Japanese guards shooting at the Americans at the time of the dropping of the bomb, Little Boy, on Hiroshima, something which Pepper sees on the newsreels and dreams about, wandering about the ruins of the city.
While Jacob Salvati is very effective as Pepper, Emily Watson brings her warmth to the role of the mother and comedian Kevin James has a small role as the local doctor. Michael Rapaport is the father and Ben Chaplin is Black Eagle.
Of course, there is a great deal of sentiment in the film, but, unfortunately, this often gives rise to a certain cynical response to such human warmth, which is a pity.
A pleasing, traditional, pleasant and sometimes challenging re-visiting of California during World War II.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released September 3 2015