One of the most powerful films to play at Sundance doesn’t premiere until mid-week, but has many talking about a pair of heart-rending performances by a couple of kids in ”The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete.”
The movie tells the story of Mister, an adolescent in the projects, left on his own to care for an even younger neighbor named Pete. Both of the boys’ mothers are strung out on drugs and given to prostitution. Ducking child services, they leave the boys to fend for themselves during a steaming hot, violent and cruel Brooklyn summer.
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The movie boasts Jennifer Hudson as Mister’s derelict Mom, and former American Idol singer Jordin Sparks as his older friend. But the searing heart of the movie is Mister as played by Skylan Brooks, a wisp of a 14-year-old with ageless eyes and the wounded rage of a young teen reaching for his future.
Director George Tillman Jr., a Hollywood veteran, said he yearned to get away from formulaic movies like “Faster” and “Men of Honor,” both of which he made, and back to more authentic stories like his early work in “Soul Food.”
He found the script in 2009. “I went to the studios. Everybody loved the script, but said it was tough material.”
Tough indeed. All about crack mothers and the children they leave behind. About the deeply impoverished and the mentally disabled, parts of society that are little examined and barely visible in today’s America. Brooks as Mister gets on with the business of living, foraging for food and protecting Peet from predators, although he desperately needs an adult to help him.
Brooks came in to audition on the same day as Ethan Dizon, who plays the tiny Korean boy with an angelic expression.
“When he came into the audition room, I found I could talk to him like Robert DeNiro or Anthony Mackey, people I’ve worked with in the past,” said Tillman.
“He had a very mature intelligence about film, and subtext. I felt that’s the kind of partner I need to move this fast with this kind of budget.”
‘This budget’ was barely over $3 million, and nobody wanted to finance the movie. Tillman waited through 2010, then 2011; he finally found the money in 2012 with a New York company called iDeal.
They shot the movie in the projects themselves, rehearsing for many weeks to teach Brooks and Dizon, both from Los Angeles, to act like natives.
“I’m tired of opening grosses and weekend numbers,” said Tillman. “When you’re in the industry, you forget about things like a good story. This is a world we don’t get to see. It’s about the human experience. It’s inspirational. No matter how tough it is, these kids keep moving ahead and figuring it out.”
The movie is up for acquisition.