The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete

The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete ★★★½

"Nobody's gonna help us. They never have. They never will." ~ Gloria

Growing up in the Brooklyn projects is tough enough, but being abandoned in an empty apartment without money or a regular source of food is about as close to hell on Earth as a kid can get. Yet that's exactly the situation faced by 13-year-old Miske 'Mister' Winfield (Skylan Brooks) and his nine-year-old Korean-American companion Pete (Ethan Dizon) when their single moms are arrested and they have to evade being caught by child protective services.

Director George Tillman Jr.'s second feature brings us Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as Mister's mother Gloria. She lives in the Brooklyn Park Houses, as does Pete's mother (Martha Millan). Both women are junkie prostitutes working for a pimp named Kris (Anthony Mackie). When one of Kris's dealers called Curtis (Rob Morgan) gets busted, he gives the police names and soon the two hookers are picked up, too. That leaves Mister and Pete to face the prospect of being sent to Riverview, "the worst group home in the world."

They hide at Mister's as long as they can, but when food runs out, they take to begging and theft. Mister figures his mother will be free in a couple of weeks, but after three weeks, he calls the police station and learns she was released a week earlier. She's abandoned him. What's more, Sergeant Pike (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) starts coming around looking for the boy. And in time, the electricity is cut off and Pete develops stomach pain.

Mister has only one hope. There's an audition in New York for child actors on August 7th. Whoever is selected will appear in a TV show that's being filmed in Beverly Hills. In fact, he's pinning all his hopes on it ... if he can avoid Pike and survive in the projects that long.

Other characters here include: Mister's 8th-grade teacher Mr. Carey (Joseph Adams); a woman named Alice (Jordin Sparks), who used to live in the projects but became the mistress of a married white dude (Adam Trese); Dartavius Stallsworth (Julito McCullum), a local thief that Mister calls Dip Stick; the bodega owner (Kenneth Maharaj) who has banned Mister from his store; and a homeless panhandler named Henry (Jeffrey Wright).

As the title implies, this isn't an uplifting film or an inspirational one. Being a dark story didn't get it much love at the box office, either, where it earned less than $500,000 against a budget of $3 million. At award ceremonies, the film gained several nominations but no prizes, despite generally positive reviews and a relatively warm reception at Sundance. It's considerably better than I expected, and certainly worth watching.

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