Depictions of everyday kids are absent from most films. At this gap is exactly where the Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete ushers in a refreshing narrative. Director George Tillman Jr. and writer Michael Starrbury strike upon a slice of life rarely depicted on screen in their telling of the trials of two school-aged children struggling to survive on their own during one summer in Brooklyn.
Mister (Skylan Brooks) is a little man with a furrowed brow and revealing grooves under his prepubescent eyes.
He and his friend Pete (Ethan Dizon) are forced to navigate the streets alone—balancing full-fridge grocery shopping and keeping away from old, lonely women—while their quintessential bad mothers (one of whom is Jennifer Hudson), ala Mary from Precious or Michael Oher’s mother in the Blind Side, are caught up in the prostitution-drugs-jail cycle.
Their tale is more humorous than dire. Tillman Jr. opts for a lighter portrayal of youth life in the inner city compared to grittier stories from John Singleton, the Hughes Brothers, and other filmmakers of earlier decades.
As the summer passes, Mister goes from skinny to gaunt–his frail bones poking through his skin are evidence of his getting by on green-beans-and-spaghetti-sauce-soups and ketchup-and-bread sandwiches.
The bond that develops between Mister and Pete, a younger Asian boy, is an unlikely one, of two otherwise disparate souls joined together by the same fate. They estimate their odds of survival are better if combined.
As the title suggests, however, their fate is inevitable, a word that reveals Mister’s youth when he has to look it up in a dictionary. Like other kids who get lost in the system, the cards are stacked against him, shown through shots that allow us to feel he’s a lot smaller than the world he’s trying to figure out.
Admirably, Mister puts up a stalwart fight, but he ultimately has to come around to the understanding that he is just a kid—although this does take quite some time, as he deftly pushes the boundaries of his resourcefulness to their furthest limits. Every adult he encounters, one way or another, break down this surprising (to him) realization—when he misreads a favor from an old neighborhood friend (Jordin Sparks), when the gangsters led by Kris (Anthony Mackie) heckle at his show of bravado, when the casting directors tell him he is virtually invisible without a parental guardian, and when he sulks in the backseat on route to his new temporary abode.
Even the wittiest youngsters are just kids. It is the parent’s lesson to bestow upon children, else shall the mighty hand of the law be the bearer of foreseeable fate.
Mister and Pete desperately try to evade the housing authorities and avoid the outcome that, legend has it, has swallowed kids whole before him. Their nemeses are the messenger of the housing authority Sergeant Pike (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a towering man with mysterious dark sunglasses and Dip Stick (Julito McCullum), a slightly older local kid who makes his mischief stirring up trouble in the community.
The well-seasoned cast is suitably roughened up for the part, with Anthony Mackie the king pin concealed under a Rick Ross beard. Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks of American Idol fame also blend remarkably well with the likes of stellar performances by Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, a mark of spot on direction by Tillman Jr.