In theatres this week from writer/director Alejandro Monteverde and Open Road is a journey of faith for one LITTLE BOY.
Pepper (Jakob Salvati) is an 8-year-old boy in the 1940’s who is a little size deficient and with that comes lack of friends – except for one. His father James (Michael Rapaport) and Pepper are the best of friends as they create adventures based on the great magician Ben Eagle.
Living in the small town of O’Hare, California along with Mom Emma (Emily Watson) and brother London (David Henrie) they are a happy family. Then London is given a 4F from the military and can not serve so Dad James must go instead. Pepper is devastated and angry!
Fueling that anger is Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a Japanese-American who lives in the town. Townsperson Sam (Ted Levine) fuels the anger after losing his son to the war and recruits London to act out. When word reaches the family that Pepper’s Dad is missing overseas the little boy wants answers.
But not before London takes Pepper with him to vandalize Hashimoto’s home and promptly put in jail – Pepper turns to Fr. Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) for answers. Trying to help the boy build his faith, Fr. Oliver gives him a list of “faith” builders and adds one, to befriend Hashimoto.
It is a rough start but Pepper begins to see the light in having such a special friend. The problem comes when London brings on more trouble trying to stop the young boy from having a friendship, being bullied by the town doctor’s son, and seeing his mother cry.
His faith is what will move them all.
FINAL WORD: Salvati as Pepper is endearing, adorable, and heartbreaking to watch. Wrestling with a height deficiency, it is the relationship between Pepper and his father that moves this young man to such extraordinary lengths. Each step he takes moves Pepper higher and as Hashimoto says – making him the tallest kid ever. The adults and town kids around Pepper don’t understand the trials of this boy yet Salvanti’s portrayal of this young man will easily soften the hardest heart.
Tagawa as Hashimoto is absolutely amazing. Hashimoto is a man who knows how the town sees him yet there is a gentleness mixed with his own life sadness. Tagawa gives this character a gracefulness necessary to reach into the heart of a sad little boy. In the midst of it all, Tagawa’s performance also shares with the audience the deep ability to forgive.
Watson as Emma shows such amazing strength and depth of a wife and mother trying to be strong for her family. There is a moment she breaks and it breaks Pepper’s heart to see it. Yep, that got me! Rapaport has a smaller role but amazingly important as the connection between father-son is believable from the moment he and Salvati are on screen together and carry to the end.
Wilkinson as Fr. Oliver sees something in Pepper that no one else does – a boy who doesn’t fear finding whatever belief he needs to bring his father home. Then again I love everything Wilkinson does! If you are looking for an actor who can be the total bad package that would be Levine as Sam. A man whose anger needs an outlet and Hashimoto is it.
Henrie as London is a brother with a car-rack full of issues. Becoming the man of the family seems to be more than he can handle and he also uses Hashimoto as an outlet for that anger almost to the point of lashing out at Pepper as well.
Other cast include: Ben Chaplin as Ben Eagle, Kevin James as Dr. Fox, Eduardo Verastegui as Fr. Crispin, Abraham Benrubi as Teacup, Toby Huss as Col. Bob, Ali Landry as Ava, Kelly Greyson as Tyra and Candice Azzara as Bertha.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give LITTLE BOY four and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. There are just so many things right about this film – lets see if I can get through them all. First, it is amazing to see a film that embraces hope against the odds in the eyes of a young boy. Salvati has the look that can make you smile one moment and break your heart the very next and that will bring the film closer to home for many.
The storytelling is completely inspiring with the performances of Tagawa. During the film it speaks of the World War II Japanese internment camps giving the viewer an emotional take from both sides and Tagawa truly shares in this performance.
There are fine actors here and, although not big roles, mesh so well with the entire film. The set and costuming are so well done and add to the telling. The film is written and directed by Alejandro Monteverde, a Smithsonian Institute Award winner and known for his 2006 film BELLA.
LITTLE BOY is a family film and that is saying something strong and positive. This is important especially when every other movie showing is a remake of something else and lacks creativity. LITTLE BOY shows the amazing belief in the heart of a little boy who could easily sink into his own problems but instead, chooses to trust in a faith so easily thrown aside by adults.
It is a film of faith, trust, family, loyalty, history and an understanding that can only come from a place of love. Grab the family and experience LITTLE BOY together. Trust me when I warn you to bring tissue!
In the end – believe the impossible.