“The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” starring Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, is one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in a long time. Is it enjoyable and entertaining to watch? If you define “enjoyable” as “uplifting” and “entertainment” as “fun,” then no, it’s not. But it is a powerful, well-developed story with strong acting and weighty, significant conflict that grows minute-by-minute—even in the smallest of moments. Perhaps more importantly, it deals with issues that should not be ignored simply because they might not make for pleasant viewing.
From the opening scene, the whole world seems to be against Mister (Brooks). A tough loner, this 14 year old has learned two things from life: He, alone, will have to look out for himself if he wants to survive; if he wants to survive, he’d better look out for himself alone.
It’s understandable. He lives in the Brooklyn projects where everyone is looking over one shoulder for the cops, and over the other for the pimp or dealer they owe money. His mom, Gloria (Jennifer Hudson), is an addict working as a prostitute. She’s high all day and out all night, leaving Mister to fend for himself and with no illusions as to what she does for a living. There is no one in his life he can ask for help; consequently he walks around with his head high and attitude proud, the chip of self-preservation large and heavy on his young, painfully thin shoulder.
Despite his life, Mister is not without a dream: He wants to be an actor, and he will make it to the child talent casting call at the end of the summer. But when there’s a drug raid in his building, Gloria is hauled off to jail mid-binge, and he’s left on his own—albeit with an unsolicited sidekick, Pete (Dizon).
Pete is around 10 years old. His circumstances are much the same as Mister’s, and his mother has seemingly abandoned him to Gloria’s care. Perhaps his age accounts for his naivete, or perhaps he is just naturally trusting. Whatever the reason, Pete and Mister couldn’t be more different, and Pete’s guileless nature in the midst of so much violence and hopelessness is as endearing as it is heartbreaking. Mister finds it nothing but annoying and is loath to babysit or play big brother. But when Gloria is arrested, he can’t bring himself to send Pete home alone.
When a few weeks turn into a month, and Mister learns Gloria has been released, he’s left with no other possibility: She’s abandoned him or overdosed. Either way, she’s never coming back.
Left on their own, Mister and Pete spend the summer doing three things: trying to eat, hiding from the cops, and dreaming about the casting call. But no matter how hard he tries, Mister can’t catch a break. They have no food, the welfare card runs out, their stuff gets stolen, the power gets turned off in the midst of record-high summer temperatures, neighborhood thugs harass them, and finally, Pete gets sick. There is not one moment of relief for the two boys, who grow dirtier and skinnier with each passing scene. One low-life miscreant taunts them that their defeat is inevitable.
It seems true, in highly charged scenes when the boys are chased by the cops or beaten up by hustlers. In sobering, silence-inducing scenes where Pete reveals the large burn scar on his back from his mom, or Mister demonstrates his acting ability by impersonating Gloria when she’s high. Even in lighter moments like when they try to break into a neighbor’s apartment for food, their faces covered with pantyhose, the irony is as gut-wrenching as it is laughable. Despite their antics, there is a gnawing knowing: Even if Mister makes it to the casting call, his dreams will probably not come true; his story will most likely not end well.
This is a hard thing to see in a movie. After all, we root for our heroes because we want to see them triumph. Usually, no matter how dire their circumstances, deep down we believe they will overcome. But the longer I watched, the more I was convinced there was truly no way out for the two boys, and the conclusion could only be a sad one.
Sure enough, while the film took a turn I wasn’t expecting, there wasn’t the satisfying sense of resolution we usually desire from a movie. But I think it’s only fitting: A tidy wrap-up would not only have cheapened the complex story and depth of the characters, but would also have allowed the viewer to walk away without much further consideration. But a story like this requires that we stop and consider—both what it reveals about our world, and what it reveals about our response.
The complex, often painful makeup of family dynamics is a weighty reality for both Mister and Pete. At one point, Pete asks Mister if he has to love his mother. Mister responds, “You can’t help but love her . . . but you don’t have to like her.” Mister is faced with one moral dilemma after another, and his sense of conflict is clear: Do his circumstances justify his actions—even if they are wrong or self-centered—or should he do the right thing—even when it’s difficult and often creates greater problems?
Mister is convinced at first that the only way he will survive is to fend for himself. But Pete’s friendship and trust, as well as his own ultimate need to ask for help, teaches him that he does, in fact, need other people, and that kindness can sometimes come from the most unexpected people and places. The movie speaks deeply to our basic instinctual desire to survive—and thrive. While Mister comes across as angry and tough at the outset, his tenacity enables him to persevere, and he ultimately grows stronger because of his trials.
“Inevitable Defeat” deals with many intense and ugly topics: child neglect, drug abuse, prostitution, violence, and sexual abuse. Because the story revolves around children, it’s even more disconcerting. But it is, no doubt, a reflection of the world we live in and the reality for many, whether we realize it or not . . . whether we want to or not. As followers of Christ in particular, we should welcome any reality check that increases our awareness of the world around us and reminds us that we are to be His hands and feet, not afraid or offended to go the places He went and love the people He loves.
This is why I highly recommend “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete,” although it is rated R for strong sexual content, violence, drug abuse, language, and strong thematic elements, and is obviously not suitable for children. I believe this film provides a powerful picture of “the least of these,” and reminds us: We must not forget them.
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