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Review: George Tillman Jr's 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete' (In Theaters Now)

Reviews
by Zeba Blay
October 11, 2013 10:20 AM
10 Comments
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"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete."
"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete."
Certain buyers, who shall of course go unnamed, have called director George Tillman Jr’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, “Precious-like,” “not quite the essence of the ghetto movie,” and in no way “marketable.”

Comparisons to Precious may abound with this movie and though they are lazy comparisons, they should not be wholly surprising: both films deal with the overall awful lives of young youths living in the ghetto. What the “essence” of the so-called ghetto movie actually is remains to be determined, but certainly what lies at the heart of The Inevitable Defeat... is something that transcends any genre or pseudo genre, a unique and oddly uplifting film that’s part coming-of-age, part survival story.

When we meet Mister (Skylan Brooks), he is a preteen with suffering grades, a bad attitude, but a good heart. On his last day of school he arrives home to a tiny, battered apartment in the projects to find two things: his mother strung out on heroin (played wonderfully by Jennifer Hudson), and Pete (Ethan Dizon), a 10-year-old boy sitting on his bed and using his Playstation. Pete is the son of a prostitute that Mister’s mother works for, a polite, if quiet young boy who seems to revere Mister. It might be a jarring first introduction, but for Mister, it’s a reality that he’s clearly known all his life - we see him go through the motions of anger, self pity, disgust, and finally indifference as he witnesses his mother shoot up, and later service a stranger for a couple bucks in a bathroom stall.

The film is heavy in its first ten minutes, and it gets even heavier when Mister’s mom is arrested, leaving him to fend for himself and little Pete for three hot summer months as they evade the police and placement in a local orphanage while trying to stave off hunger and sickness. While the film does at times go too far in the extremes of tragedy and misfortune - literally anything bad that can happen to these little boys will -  it never devolves totally into what some would describe as poverty porn.

It’s a testament to the script by Michael Starburry and stellar acting by the cast (including Anthony Mackie and Jordin Sparks) that the movie doesn’t come across as voyeuristic, a touristy excursion into a bizarre and grotesque world. But the true essence of the film lies in its two leads, particularly Skylan Brooks, who carries the weight of the movie on his shoulders with a charisma and a vulnerability that’s rare for both child and adult actors alike. We root for him not because we feel sorry for him, but rather because he constantly fights against the urge to feel sorry for himself, with big dreams of becoming an actor and auditioning for a Beverly Hills television show that he hopes will change his life.

The inevitability of the film’s title is, well, inevitable, but the journey that we go on with Mister and Pete suggests that, in a certain sense, they lose a battle but win an even bigger war at the end. There’s a moment in the film when the police chief (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who has been pursuing him all summer tells Mister to keep fighting, no matter what. He replies, tearfully: “But I can’t do it on my own.” It’s this sentiment, really, that drives the film - a child realizing that, no despite circumstances that force him to be strong, it’s okay for him to still want to be a kid. It’s okay to ask for help. This, perhaps, may not be a marketable sentiment - but it’s certainly a refreshing one.

Codeblack Films will release George Tillman Jr.'s The Inevitable Defeat Of Mister And Pete in theaters, starting today, October 11, in limited release,


Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.

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10 Comments

  • Flychick86 | June 25, 2014 8:54 PMReply

    JUST saw it today! Wow, it was pretty good.

  • Flychick86 | June 25, 2014 8:54 PMReply

    JUST saw it today! Wow, it was pretty good.

  • Flychick86 | June 25, 2014 8:54 PMReply

    JUST saw it today! Wow, it was pretty good.

  • Sunny | October 23, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    I saw the film this past weekend and I LOVED it. I've been telling everyone I know to go out and support it. It may not be "marketable" but it's quality over quality and a much needed alternative to Tyler Perry. These are the types of films that he should be making instead of exploiting the black audience with the mediocre crap he produces.

    Those two young actors do a wonderful job and I certainly think this film deserves some Oscar buzz. I don't know why it's not getting more buzz but it definitely should be. I was a social worker for many years and worked in so called "ghettos"... it takes a lot to move someone as desensitized as myself. This movie certainly did. I will probably try and catch it once more before it's all said and done. If you're lucky you'll get to experience the film for yourself.

  • CareyCarey | October 14, 2013 8:49 PMReply

    I saw this film on Friday. George Tillman Jr. and Jennifer Hudson were in attendance.

    I wasn't moved nor impressed by Jennifer's, nor Anthony Mackie's performance (what was up with that beard?) but the two young actors did a yeoman's job.

    Btw, I also saw Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and 12 Years A Slave. And the jury has returned. Of those three films, my rewards for the most entertaining, most fulfilling most enjoyable and least enjoyable films goes to...

  • Wise | October 14, 2013 7:39 PMReply

    This (fantastic!!) kid that played Mister is the lead Spike needed for "Red Hook."

  • saadiyah | October 13, 2013 4:54 PMReply

    I saw this today. Loved it, loved it, loved it. The two boys were amazing. They both had me crying a couple of times during the film. Even the small performances were worthy. I may go see it again.

  • scriptTease | October 12, 2013 10:52 AMReply

    I doubt it will come to my area. Like most Black Films, I have to wait for RedBox or Netflix. It sounds like it might be a pretty good film, with a twist of adventure.

  • Luso | October 12, 2013 2:11 AMReply

    First time a movie review made me cry. Zeba, you're awesome. Hope I get to see what sounds like a remarkable story.

  • Burp | October 11, 2013 3:42 PMReply

    I really like your reviews.

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