The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete
Release Date: October 11, 2013
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Michael Starrbury
Stars: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jordin Sparks
MPAA Rating: R
I’d love to hear a group of Hollywood marketing folks attempt to come up with one of their typical mash up explanations for The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. Perhaps they’d go with “It’s Home Alone meets Boys in the Hood” or “It’s Hugo meets The Wire.”
I wouldn’t envy their jobs on this one. It’s a tough film to explain concisely. However, I’ll give it a shot. The film is the story of two young boys – Mister (Skylan Brooks) and Pete (Ethan Dizon) – who have to fend for themselves for an entire summer after Mister’s mom (Jennifer Hudson) is arrested for prostitution and heroin possession (and Pete’s mom, who works with Mister’s mom, has pawned the raising of her child off to Mister). They must scavenge for food while avoiding Sergeant Pike (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the police officer trying to round them up to send off to an incredibly rough boys home. Of course, as the title foreshadows, this is an unsustainable lifestyle. Eventually, something will have to give.
The film boasts an impressive cast. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is properly brooding and intimidating as Sergeant Pike. Anthony Mackie is great as Kris, the drug dealer/pimp who employs both Mister and Pete’s moms. Jeffrey Wright plays homeless veteran Henry with amazing restraint, hinting at so much below the surface. Jordin Sparks gives a nice performance as Alice, the closest thing Mister has to an adult he can count on, though she falls well short of being an ideal maternal figure. And Jennifer Hudson give the best and most tragic performance of her career as Mister’s junkie mom.
But what’s so impressive about this film is that it has this amazing cast of familiar faces, but they are all simply background characters that populate this world. The film is carried by its two young leads, who get the bulk of the screen time. Finding good child actors is no easy feat and director George Tillman Jr. has found two amazing ones in Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon.
Brooks is phenomenal in the role of Mister. His acting never seems forced or over the top. And it’s not an easy role to play. Mister is guarded and angry. A lot of his emotions are below the surface. But there is also a vulnerability to him. He’s a child who has been forced to grow up too fast and to act like an adult, but he’s still a child. It would be a lot to balance for a veteran adult actor, let alone a young child actor.
Dizon is such a joy to watch on-screen. He’s just a bundle of raw nerves. While Mister has hardened himself to survive, the younger and more sensitive Pete doesn’t have the fortitude to make it on his own. But, like Mister, he has no one looking out for him. Even Mister only reluctantly takes on the role of Pete’s protector/provider after realizing that he’s this kid’s only ally.
Dizon tugs at your heart strings wonderfully. There’s a scene where he sees his mom on the corner and the anguish in his face devastated me. Brooks played the scene perfectly as well, seeing Pete’s reaction and instantly covering for him so that they didn’t have to talk about it.
Their relationship is really wonderful and it is the heart of the film. Mister is someone who never had anyone he could really count on, so he tries to make it through life on his own. His journey in the film is discovering that it’s impossible to do that. And part of that is by caring for Pete and acting as a caregiver and older mentor himself, giving Pete the type of positive role model Mister has lacked in his own life.
The film has a really tough tightrope to walk. The reality of these kids’ lives is rather dark, but it can’t be hopeless and it can’t be without levity or it would be unbearably bleak. But you also don’t want to trivialize their plight by making it too jokey or whimsical. I think Tillman Jr. and writer Michael Starrbury find the right tone for the film.
However, it does feel a bit tidy in the end. I don’t begrudge Tillman Jr. and Starrbury for putting a bow on their dark story with a mostly happy ending, but it does feel a bit more neat than I expected, especially given the title of the film. Still, it’s hard to really argue that giving a happy ending to two sweet kids with the deck stacked horribly against them is really a bad thing.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a great film. It takes a bleak setting and subject matter and, thanks to a fantastic cast led by two amazing child actors, uses that backdrop to tell a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story. It is one of the best and most memorable film’s I’ve seen this year.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.