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Little Boy
Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati) has an emotional farewell with his father, James (Michael Rapaport), in a scene from “Little Boy.”

‘Little Boy’ packs big message

Life can be especially cruel when you are 7 and the world is at war. It’s even more so when you are unusually small and the war comes closer to home in the form of a bulky town bully and his small army of tormentors.

“Little Boy,” a new offering by the makers of the surprise independent hit “Bella,” is a feel-good story about conflict, will and faith. It’s an exceptional piece of filmmaking that leaves viewers wishing for more. It opens April 24.

“Little Boy” follows the story of Pepper Busbee, his hero-father James Busbee, and their storybook relationship. In the comfort of their living room the two partners embark on great adventures as pirates and cowboys and bandits. They track the exploits of comic book magician Ben Eagle and adopt his motto, “Do you believe you can do this?”

Around O’Hare, a sleepy fishing village with clapboard homes and mom-and-pop shops, dad and son share moving pictures, ice cream cones and bike rides.

Pepper’s world is shattered, though, when the Army rejects his older brother’s application to join the war effort. Their dad must go in his place. In a tearful bus-side send off, Dad looks his son in the eyes and says, “Do you believe you can do this?”

“Yes, I believe I can do this,” Pepper responds with quivering lips.

Emily Watson shines in her understated role as Emma Busbee, Pepper’s mom. Vulnerable but composed she dedicates herself to protecting her sons, including London, who is tasked with keeping the Busbee & Sons Garage in business while dealing with his own issues of guilt and rage.

The rage is manifested on Hashimoto, an elderly Japanese man who moves to their village after being released from an American concentration camp. Hashimoto quickly becomes a scapegoat for the war and “Little Boy” captures the pain and ugliness of racism.

Newcomer Jakob Salvati is no doubt the star, not by way of the script, but by the sheer force of his acting. When his heart bleeds so does yours; when he steps out in faith, your own soars; when he marches to victory, you are ready for the prize.

After listening to a sermon by Father Crispin, Little Boy is inspired to do whatever it takes to bring his father home.

“If we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain, if we can move a mountain then nothing will be impossible for us, not even ending this war and having our loved ones back,” the priest tells his congregants.

In search of his own mustard seed, Little Boy submits to the guidance of Father Oliver, the parish’s senior leader. Under his hand, Little Boy embarks on a journey to strengthen his faith through acts of mercy: feeding the poor, visiting the sick and burying the dead. But Father Oliver adds one more item to the list: befriend Hashimoto.

“Are you craaazy?” the incredulous child blurts out.

“You’re faith won’t work if you have even the slightest bit of hatred in you.” Father Oliver says.

Over time the reluctant friendship blossoms and Hashimoto encourages Little Boy to stand up for himself in the midst of incessant taunting.

“Don’t measure yourself from here to the floor,” Hashimoto said as he laid his hand upon the boy’s head. Then moving it to the child’s chin he adds, “Measure yourself from here to the sky. It makes you the tallest boy in town.”

Alejandro Monteverde (who also directs) and Pepe Portillo create a masterful, heartwarming story that tackles issues of faith and God’s will without sermonizing. They also succeed in capturing the undertones, anger—and the potential for redemption—that permeate racism. There are twists and turns and hills and valleys, symbolic of an authentic walk of faith.

The cinematography—featuring stunning coastal scenes captured in Rosarito, Mexico—and the musical score is what you would expect from Hollywood.

Executive Producer Eduardo Verástegui, who also appears as Father Crispin, said “Little Boy” was a labor of love.

“This movie took five years of our lives for 1 hour and 45 minutes of your time and we hope it touches your heart,” Verástegui said.

It was five years well spent. Don’t miss it.

Production Company: Metanoia Films
Distributor: Open Road Films
Executive Producers: Mark Burnett, Ricardo Del Río , Roma Downey, Eduardo Verástegui
Pepper Busbee: Jakob Salvati (Escape From Tomorrow,” “Red Widow”)
Emma Busbee: Emily Watson (“The Theory of Everything,” “War Horse,” “Cradle Will Rock”)
James Busbee: Michael Rapaport (“The Heat,” “Hitch,” “Men of Honor”)
London Busbee: David Henrie (“The Secret World of Arrietty,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “How I Met Your Mother”)
Father Crispin: Eduardo Verástegui (“For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada,” “The Butterfly Circus,” “Bella”)
Father Oliver: Tom Wilkinson (“Batman Begins,” “Michael Clayton,” “Shakespeare in Love”)
Dr. Fox: Kevin James (“Hitch,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The King of Queens”)
Hashimoto: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (“Hachi: A Dog’s Tale,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Planet of the Apes”)
Freddy Fox: Matthew Scott Miller (“3: Camp Fred,” “A Holiday Heist, “Mr. Monster”)
Rating: PG-13

 

— by Lori Arnold

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