Year Released : 2015
Director : Alejandro Monteverde
Cast : Jakob Salvati, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin James, Michael Raraport and Emily Watson
Whilst looking for new films to watch the other night, I came across the trailer for this film on Youtube and there is something that I haven’t really reviewed on this site, and that is something that could be described as life-affirming. That’s the impression of the film that I got when I saw the trailer and it instantly jumped to the top of the queue of films that I have lined up to watch for review on this site at some point or another.
Infact, I’m going to do something which I wasn’t ever intending on doing, I’m going to share with you the Youtube playlist I have of trailers for films that I want to watch and review – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL99qrMvtP4f7Kx2ZhIMEWayaaBOI861ta
I suppose that there’s nowhere else to go following on that than the review….
Pepper (Salvati) is an 8 year old boy that is regularly bullied and mocked because of his stunted height, but he shares a special relationship with his father James (Raraport). The two have a deep connection and Pepper often puts his father as the central figure in his daydream based adventures. However, the two are torn apart when Pepper’s brother is refused entry to fight in World War 2 due to having flat feet, and James replaces him.
Struggling to cope without his father, Pepper visits a magic show and is chosen to go up on stage. Much to everyone’s surprise, he moves a bottle from one side of a table to another, but he is still largely mocked by everyone. Whilst trying to enhance his powers, Pepper runs into Hasimoto (Tagawa), a Japanese man living in the town at the height of America’s hatred towards Japan. Pepper, along with several others in the area, antagonise Hasimoto and vandalise his house.
News reaches Pepper’s family that James’ regiment was killed by men in the Philippines, although they didn’t find James’ body, leading them to speculate he was instead took in as a prisoner of war. In desperation to get his father home, Pepper seeks help from the local priest (Wilkinson) and he wants to know why he can’t bring his father home if he can move a bottle. The priest decides to set him some moral goals, such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and also befriending Hasimoto.
The two, despite a difficult start, do start becoming friends but the xenophobia of the local community towards Hasimoto makes life difficult for both. Pepper is mocked for continuing to believe that he can move objects, that is until he tries to move a mountain with his “powers” and an earthquake coincides with the attempt. Pepper takes this as a sign that he can bring his father home, but does he actually have powers at all?
Well let’s start with something that is pretty important when going into the film and that is that the film isn’t what the trailer suggests. In recent days I have become interested in watching “The Gift” because it is apparently nothing like the trailer makes it out to be (and the trailer is awful). Little Boy is pretty much the same as there are major themes in the film that aren’t even remotely hinted at in the trailer.
Don’t get me wrong, the film didn’t do a bad job in terms of the additional hidden storylines, far from the xenophobic theme towards Hasimoto is very well done. Despite loving America and having lived there most of his life, Hasimoto is vilified simply because he is of Japanese descent and this is very much an approach grounded in reality and even today that theme is still very much prevalent in the world today and I’ve witnessed it first hand.
I live in England and often see a lot of racism and xenophobia towards members of the Muslim faith. Having lived in Blackburn, a town which is about 40% Muslim, a few years back, I got to know quite a lot of them and in the majority of cases they are far nicer and more morally just than those that accuse them all of being terrorists because one member of the religion committed an atrocity. It’s the same with the way that Hasimoto is treated by the local community in this film. He is treated like he committed murders on American soldiers, even though he had precisely nothing to do with it at all.
The relationships between characters are expertly put together and the connection between James and Pepper feels genuine. You don’t really see them together for long, maybe a total of ten minutes in the film, if that, but you get the feeling for the relationship and whilst I could easily praise Jakob Salvati, I’d rather praise Raraport. I’ve always liked Michael Raraport and find him to be highly likable. He brings a humble brilliance to the role of James and he drives the relationship between him and Pepper.
Salvati doesn’t do a bad job either, although on occasions he is definitely guilty of overacting. I was thinking all of the way through that he looks he could pass for Chloe Grace-Moretz’s little brother, and he does well in the scenes where he is having to react to something negative, such as the bullying, James leaving and what I’m going to talk to about later. He does a competent job for the majority of the film, although his performance does get a bit tiresome in places.
The scenes that the two spend remind me a lot of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in terms of presentation and that isn’t a bad thing for me. Whilst TSLOWM had some big flaws, the scenes set inside of Walter’s imagination had some great emotional depth and Little Boy captures that same level
There are subtle levels of comedy that were amusing as well, such as Pepper talking to the local priest about magic, the priest mocks it in a way that also contradicts the majority of the stories in the Bible, leaving him desperately backtracking when Pepper calls him on it. It is subtle but works very well and as someone who is half way between atheist and agnostic, I found the calling out of the hypocrisy to be hilarious.
However, it’s not all positive and there are two main contentions with the film.
The first of which is the performance of Emily Watson. In my review for “The Proposition” right at the start of this site, I described Emily Watson in the following way….
“Then we get onto the acting, if you can indeed call it that, provided by Emily Watson. There are few actresses with a less varied emotional range than Watson and in any film that I have seen her in, she has yet to produce a performance that convinces me that she should be in the movie industry. Her character plays a seemingly happily married woman that then finds out that her husband has been covering up that her pregnant friend was raped and murdered, all before having her life threatened on several occasions, and despite a character description like that, Watson doesn’t once move from the vacuous expression that she conveys in every performance.”
The reason that I bring up that quote from the aforementioned review is that it saves me repeating pretty much the exact thing, she is again absolutely atrocious. How does such an incompetent actress keep on getting roles. She’d make an excellent Terminator because her face seems like it has just been permanently botoxed and she has a paralytic face. She is just absolutely atrocious and I can’t say a good thing about her performance.
Even when she finds out that there is the possibility that James has died, Watson’s facial expression makes it seem like the character couldn’t give the slightest shit. It’s only during what I am going to talk about in my second negative in which she shows any semblance of emotion.
Now, I said that there were two negatives and this next one is a MAJOR spoiler and deals with the ending of the film. Anything from now until the summary section is a spoiler, so you have been warned.
The family is told that James was killed whilst in a Prisoner of War Camp whilst trying to escape, it then cuts to flashbacks and how he was killed. To be fair, it was really well done and exceptionally presented, and ends with a fellow prisoner stealing his boots whilst he lay dying. The next ten minutes or so is the family dealing with the death and it gives a genuinely heart-wrenching ending…..that is until it’s revealed that James didn’t die.
It turns out that the soldier who stole James’ boots was shot as soon as he stood up and it was his body that was recovered. Within the boot was James’ name tag and therefore the nurses assumed that it was James that they recovered, whereas it wasn’t. The family is subsequently told and go to visit James in hospital and that is the ending of the film.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the ending is relatively clever, but it felt like such a get out clause and fed into America’s inability to settle on a sad ending in the majority of films. The film would have had a much deeper and more impactful meaning had James actually died, but it felt like a get out clause and it almost invalidates the excellent ten or so minutes of the family mourning.
If you can ignore Watson’s typical incompetence then you will probably enjoy Little Boy. It’s 100 minutes of fairly decent story telling and has engaging themes and whilst it does drag in parts of at times does seem like it’s telling storylines that are from different films, it is largely a reasonable effort from all concerned.
Don’t go into it excepting brilliance, because you won’t get it, mainly because of the aforementioned Watson, but it is what it is and that is a generally enjoyable film.
That’s all I really have to say about it really.