The Brooklyn projects setting of this sweltering survival story is nothing if not bleak. And in terms of taking an audience to a distinct and specific place--albeit an almost overwhelming harsh place--The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete delivers. But that doesn't make it worth 120 minutes of your time.
Director George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food, Notorious) doesn't shy away from the gritty details of the kind of life endured by 14-year-old Mister and a tag-along 9-year-old named Pete, who lives nearby under the same horrific circumstances. Both boys' mothers are scuffling through addictions, and the situation outside their homes isn't any better, the neighborhood full of dealers, bullies and desperation on all fronts.
That desperation for Mister and Pete kicks into overdrive when Pete's mom goes absent and Mister's mom (an almost unrecognizable Jennifer Hudson) is arrested. Having heard tale of how awful the children's home is where they'll be sent, the boys run from the police and end up on their own for weeks in the middle of summer. Dangers lurk in all directions, from local thieves, dealers and thugs to the police who seem to make regular visits. The boys somehow forge a friendship through the trials, keeping their eyes on an upcoming audition for child actors that Mister knows will end up with him moving to Los Angeles to be a star.
Thankfully, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete doesn't take that "Hollywood-ending" route. Rather, the audience is given a look at remarkable perseverance from two young actors who deliver strong performances in the title roles, Sklyan Brooks as Mister, and Ethan Dizon as Pete.
The two young actors are the reasons the rather straightforward narrative and unsatisfying ending aren't as annoying as they might have been. Brooks' beyond-his-years performance in particular paints him as an actor to keep an eye on. Able to veer between stubborn tough guy and emotionally overwhelmed adolescent with ease, Brooks was excellent.
The downfall of the film is that, simply put, not much happens. Once the boys are on their own, the movie devolves into a series of episodes that don't really take the story anywhere--they simply further illustrate the boys' harsh surroundings, and their growing friendship. Once those points are established, we're left waiting for too long to have the movie resolve. The 120-minute run time felt a lot longer.
Will Mister get the role in the audition? Will Mister and Pete continue to elude the police? Will the youngsters be able to survive the onslaught of soaring temperatures, dangerous characters, no money and constant bad luck?
By the time The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete started answering those questions, I had stopped caring.
Jan. 25, 9:45 p.m., Eccles Theatre, Park City
Jan. 26, 8:30 a.m., Library Center, Park City
Jan. 27, 3 p.m., Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City