At this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival, director and producer George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men of Honor, and Notorious) received an honor for his contribution to the film industry and the city’s Mayor Tom Barrett graciously declared September 28th as George Tillman Jr. Day. Tillman, who was born and raised in Milwaukee, returned to the historic Oriental Theatre to show his latest drama The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. The masterful drama premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival to praise and it’s easy to understand why. The film is completely anchored by the striking narrative that depicts the darkness of poverty and defeating independence through the eyes of its two young performers.
As the film begins, fourteen-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks) is told that he will have to repeat the eighth grade after failing his final test. He begs for another chance from his teacher but his teacher doesn’t budge. He’s clearly frustrated at his own failure, a personal defeat that he doesn’t take lightly as he curses at his teacher on the way home from school. As he returns home from school, he finds his heroine-addicted mother (Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson) barely conscious. We quickly learn that his mother is not capable of supporting Mister in any way a mother should. Their apartment is barely furnished and they’re left with barely any groceries in their kitchen. Their only source of income derives from the money Mister’s mother makes from having intercourse with strangers.
Much like Mister, Pete (Ethan Dizon) was abandoned by his drug-riddled mother and left in the care of Mister and his mother. As Mister doesn’t want anything to do with Pete at first, they’re forced to stick with one another after Mister’s mother is among the several who are arrested after someone in the neighborhood gives up names to the police. After they’re left alone with no money, Mister and Pete are forced to fend for themselves while avoiding the police and child protective services during a blistering summer in the dangerous neighborhood in which they inhabit.
Newcomers Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon give the most impressive child performances i’ve ever seen in any film before. Their performances are flawless in both the serious and the more comedic moments throughout the film’s duration. The chemistry between Brooks and Dizon is also quite notable and their strong chemistry has continued even long after the conclusion of production as shown during the extended Q&A after the screening. It’s certainly surprising that there isn’t more Oscar buzz surrounding Skylan Brooks‘ performance especially. Unlike most actors his age, Brooks commands the screen throughout the film and is profoundly believable through his struggles and his mini, but personally large triumphs. Hopefully this film will launch his career so we can see him be equally as impressive in future films. The film has a solid and notable supporting cast that includes Jennifer Hudson as Mister’s mother, Jeffrey Wright as a homeless man who has succumbed to a life on the streets, Jordin Sparks as Mister’s friend, Anthony Mackie as a helpful acquaintance, and Adewale Akinnynuoye-Agbaje as an intimidating police officer who desperately looks for Mister and Pete.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete contains many heavy and challenging elements that ultimately make the film difficult to watch at times. Topics such as drug addiction, neglect, abuse, starvation, and crime are often intricately explored and exemplified as challenges to Mister and Pete as they take the chance to fend for themselves. These difficult topics and elements within the narrative, handled with careful and talented precision by George Tillman Jr., prove to shine a much-needed light on much-ignored poverty stricken areas in larger cities. Even though much of the film tends to be heavy in its doses of drama, the film does contain moments of lightness and comedy as Mister and Pete both prove to be charming by keeping sane and intact throughout the unfortunate circumstance that they experience.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is often emotional that pulls at the heart strings by showcasing how life can be defeating in the areas that are often ignored in not only cinema but also in reality. The film leaves you thinking long after the end credits roll due to Milwaukee native Michael Starrbury’s masterful storytelling. It’s the emphasis of storytelling and performance that exactly makes this film feel more like a triumph than a defeat.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete arrives in theaters on October 11th.