Dramas told from a child's point of view -- What Maisie Knew, for instance -- can be especially poignant in the hands of the right director. (Otherwise, prepare to be pummeled with obviousness.) Luckily, THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER & PETE had George Tillman Jr. at the helm; he clearly has the rare ability to allow tough-but-brilliant material to speak for itself. He lets his leads, Brooks and Dizon, do their thing, resisting the urge to milk the pathos out of every scene they're in, no matter how miserable the setup. And there's plenty of misery here -- negligent moms, dangerous circumstances, children in peril.
Brooks and Dizon exhibit a preternatural maturity while still, unlike more seasoned actors, acting like the kids they are. They exude innocence, especially Pete, against all odds. The results: exceptionally affecting performances that rival those of experienced thespians. (Brooks, who makes his debut here, recalls Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, if the Southern Wild were transported to Brooklyn.) But apart from the acting, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is memorable because while it doesn't adopt the sometimes-impassive nature of a documentary, it approaches that genre's devotion to authenticity. The lives depicted here are as real as it gets. It's plenty brutal, but hope springs wherever it can -- and laughter, too, though rarely. Sometimes, you expect more from some of the film's key players -- Mackie seems regrettably underused, as is Jeffrey Wright as a homeless veteran -- but Tillman Jr. lets the kids take the lead. And it's just about perfect.