A movie review of “Little Boy”: A manipulative, well-cast World War II drama about a 7-year-old boy (Jakob Salvati) determined to reunite with his father. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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Movies that successfully evoke a child’s imagination and sense of wonder are relatively rare, but the genre has produced some classics: “Shane,” “Days of Heaven,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Hope and Glory.”

Not in the same league but almost in the running — thanks to Jakob Salvati’s shining performance as the 7-year-old Pepper Flynt Busbee — is Alejandro Monteverde’s World War II drama “Little Boy.” Much of the script is manipulative hokum, and Monteverde insists on an ending that’s offensively shameless, but there’s little that’s phony about this kid.

Whether Pepper is being attacked by bullies, or he’s learning to be kind to a persecuted Japanese American (Cary-Hiroyaki Tagawa), or he’s learning from (and teaching) his distressed mother (well-cast Emily Watson), Salvati finds depth and courage in his role.

Movie Review ★★½  

‘Little Boy,’ with Jakob Salvati, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, Cary-Hiroyaki Tagawa, David Henrie, Michael Rapaport. Directed by Alejandro Monteverde, from a screenplay by Monteverde and Pepe Portillo. 86 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some thematic material including violence. Several theaters.

The time is early 1940s, the place is small-town California and Pepper’s brother (David Henrie) has been rejected by the local draft board because of his flat feet. Pepper’s father (Michael Rapaport) ends up going to war in his place. When he’s captured by the Japanese, Pepper is inspired by a magic show and a priest (Tom Wilkinson) to trust in miracles.

It takes no genius to guess where this story is going, but whatever dramatic validity the movie had is lost in the have-your-cake-and-eat-it finale. It’s a jaw-dropper.