The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete Shows Two Inner City Kids Trying to Make It on Their Own 

Thursday, Oct 10 2013

Sometimes it's the little things in a movie that get you. Early in George Tillman Jr.'s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, a bright but obstreperous 13-year-old inner-city kid — the Mister of the title, played by Skylan Brooks — bounces back from the trauma of getting an F on an important paper by fishing a postcard from his school locker. The card, creased from being folded and unfolded many times, trumpets the creation of a new TV show and announces an open casting call for child actors. Everything it might represent to a kid from the projects is enough to tear you apart. The creases only up the ante: The bigger the dream, the more important it is to fold it into as small a package as possible, partly to hide it from people who might laugh and partly to protect yourself from the terrible reality that it might never come true.

Many terrible things happen to the kids in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete: Most notably, Mister's heroin-addicted prostitute mother (a potentially overwrought role played by a blessedly low-key Jennifer Hudson) is picked up by the police, leaving Mister and his younger neighbor, a sweet-faced, guileless Korean kid named Pete (Ethan Dizon), to fend for themselves for what turns out to be the whole summer.

But Tillman is more interested in these kids' resourcefulness and resilience than in turning their suffering into liberal-guilt porn. Despite its pessimistic-sounding title, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is a world apart from miserablist exercises like Lee Daniels' Precious, and it's far less dour than Hirokazu Koreeda's 2004 Nobody Knows, which also deals with parentless youngsters somehow scraping by.

Tillman, working from a screenplay by Michael Starrbury, doesn't diminish the horrors these kids face: Both have mothers who work the streets, barely providing for them. And both boys know instinctively that the system is more likely to harm than help them. They utter the name "Riverview," the children's home run by Child Protective Services, as if it were Rikers Island for tots, desperately dodging the cops who might drag them there.

Yet there's joy in sudden independence, too, and Tillman keys in to that: A montage in which Mister whips up a few makeshift meals using whatever he can find in the cupboard — canned tomato sauce, sweet corn — is set to a scrappy little snippet of jazz reminiscent of Dave Brubeck, optimistic to its core. (Mark Isham and Alicia Keys, also one of the movie's producers, score the film.)

Tillman (Men of Honor, Notorious) is clumsy in his handling of a few scenes, and considering what these kids are up against — junkie moms, drug-dealing pimp neighbors — the ending might be a little too implausibly upbeat. But Tillman seems to know that we need to go home feeling hope for Mister and Pete, who, it turns out, aren't so easily defeated.

Young Brooks, in particular, keeps the movie spinning. Mister is a charismatic kid, a showboater; he has even developed a personal Method-acting regimen involving a monologue from Fargo, which he delivers with Stanislavskian zeal.

In one of the movie's sharpest and funniest scenes, he uses his killer acting skills to wriggle out of a jam with a patronizing white store clerk. Happy endings are all well and good, but that's really the moment we know, despite it all, Mister will do just fine.

THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER & PETE | Directed by George Tillman Jr. | Written by Michael Starrbury | Lionsgate | Citywide

Reach the writer at szacharek@villagevoice.com

Related Content

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Rated R · 108 minutes · 2013
Official Site: www.facebook.com/MisterandPete
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Michael Starrbury
Producer: Rachel Cohen and Jana Edelbaum
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jeffrey Wright, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jordin Sparks, Jennifer Hudson, Adam Trese, Julito McCullum, Chandler Frantz, Ethan Dizon and Amelia Scaramucci


Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

Now Showing

  1. Wed 20
  2. Thu 21
  3. Fri 22
  4. Sat 23
  5. Sun 24
  6. Mon 25
  7. Tue 26

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office Report

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • 20 Neo-Noir Films You Have to See
    The Voice's J. Hoberman was more mixed than most on Sin City when he reviewed it in 2005, but his description of the film as "hyper-noir" helps explain why this week's release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For has us thinking back on the neo-noir genre. Broadly speaking, neo-noir encompasses those films made outside of film noir's classic period -- the 1940s and '50s -- that nevertheless engage with the standard trappings of the genre. As with most generic labels, there isn't some universal yardstick that measures what constitutes a neo-noir film: Where the genre might begin in the '60s with films like Le Samourai and Point Blank for one person, another might argue that the genre didn't find its roots until 1974's Chinatown. Our list falls closer to the latter stance, mainly featuring works from the '80s, '90s, and 2000s. Though a number of the films mentioned here will no doubt be familiar to readers, it's our hope that we've also highlighted several titles that have been under-represented on lists of this nature. --Danny King

    See also:
    35 Music Documentaries Worth Seeing

    15 Documentaries That Help You Understand the World Right Now
  • Emmy-Nominated Costumes on Display
    On Saturday, the Television Academy and FIDM Museum and Galleries kicked off the Eighth Annual exhibition of "The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design" with an exclusive preview and reception party. 100 costumes are featured from over 20 shows representing the nominees of the 66th Emmy Awards. The free to the public exhibition is located downtown at FIDM and runs from today through Saturday, September 20th. All photos by Nanette Gonzales.
  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.

Now Trending