Little Boy is a limited released faith based film, set in World War II. It’s the war seen though the eyes of a 7-year-old. While the premise has promise, sticky sentimentality and on the nose messages about tolerance turned it into a failed effort.
We start out by meeting Pepper (Jakob Salvati), a wide-eyed 7-year-old boy desperate for his father (Michael Rapaport) to return home from the war in the Pacific. Pepper is the subject of bullying at school and despair at home. This all sets up a pretty bleak picture. Add in an older Japanese man named Hashimoto (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who is treated with suspicion and is shunned by the residents of the small California town this is set in, and you have the perfect recipe for a movie with a message.
Unfortunately, problems abound. The movie seemed to be afraid to ‘go there’ with its overall theme. Instead, it sands away the rough edges in order to give a pat, simplistic view of fear during war time. As a result, it doesn’t come across as realistic. Everyone is one dimensional, from Emily Watson playing Pepper’s saintly mother, to Hashimoto playing the patient, benevolent old man.
Right now is a great time to tackle an issue like this. After all, the fear and racism most Japanese American’s dealt with during World War II is similar to the fear and racism Muslims in America are dealing with now. It’s a complex issue, which has many layers that need to be examined.
This film takes that complex issue and turns in into a simple “everyone should be nice to everyone, all the time.” While a sticky sweet theory, it doesn’t work so well in practice. What about racial profiling? What about sleeper cells, extremism and Guantanamo Bay? After all, there were Guantanamo Bay’s all over America during World War II. They were called Japanese Internment camps. None of this is portrayed in the film. Instead, everyone is one dimensional. No one really has a good motivation. They’re either a tolerant saint or a one dimensional bigot.
The unfortunate part of this is that it could have had a strong story line. One strong part of this film is the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. I remember those from being brought up Roman Catholic and know they can make a strong storyline in and of themselves. It’s too bad that the writers seemed afraid to give the movie any edge. It sees things in black and white. People are either good or bad. That doesn’t work when you’re tying in a religious lesson. Instead, it just comes off as an overly long Sunday school lesson.
Also, in a movie that seems kind of ‘holier than thou’ the fact that the townspeople rejoice at the bombing of Hiroshima doesn’t ring true as godly. While casualties are a part of war, I think the deaths of 166,000 civilians should be treated with a bit more sensitivity, rather than proof that god exists.
WE GAVE IT: 2.5 Stars