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1 item from 2001


7 September 2001 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Puerto Rican-American poet-playwright Miguel Pinero, the "philosopher of the criminal mind" who achieved his greatest fame for writing the set-in-Sing Sing "Short Eyes", is the subject of this complex but often disengaging film by Cuba-born filmmaker Leon Ichaso ("Bitter Sugar", "Sugar Hill").

A main competition entry at the Montreal World Film Festival and unspooling at the Toronto International Film Festival, with Miramax releasing it Stateside, "Pinero" features a furiously unglamorous, convincing performance by Benjamin Bratt. While some critics might respond favorably and serious-minded urban audiences should find it worth the price of admission, judging from its mixed reaction here, the film will not break out in a significant way commercially.

Alternating between color digital and black-and-white 16mm and constantly challenging the viewer with its nonlinear structure, "Pinero" is an intriguing attempt to present cinematically the bad-boy charisma of the lead -- more than a coherent biographical portrait. As such, it does not fall into the traps of many true life-story films, but it still struggles to make the drug-taking, angry genius' expansive dark side a milieu one wants to dive into voluntarily.

But plunge in we do, with countless scenes of the lead and others shooting up, committing crimes and combating verbally, with these subjects also gone over in short excerpts from Pinero's plays and poems. Although referred to, his acting career in movies like "Serpico" and TV series like "Miami Vice" is not delved into, but his whole life was essentially a performance of his Nuyorican perspective.

Rita Moreno as the mother who brought his family to live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Mandy Patinkin as Joseph Papp, who championed Pinero, are positive influences that cannot keep the fiery artist from burning out. Likewise, his longtime girlfriend (Talisa Soto) and mentor Miguel Algarin (Giancarlo Esposito) are loyal but frustrated by Pinero's instability.

Many other characters come and go and come back, given the mosaiclike structure -- from proteges like playwright Reinaldo Povod (Michael Irby) to a down-and-out friend (Michael Wright) with whom Pinero lives in a van. Aware that his life is precarious given the quantity of drugs he takes and crimes he commits, Pinero is a tragic character to be sure, but one this film refuses to make conventionally sympathetic.

Destined to please some and frustrate many with its uncompromising attitude and highly physical production that transports one to New York of the 1970s and '80s -- with its environment of "stabbing, shooting and dying" on which the lead thrived -- Ichaso's film is a brave but flawed tribute to a man (Pinero died in 1988) whose incomparable talents still provoke and move one through the works that survive him.


Miramax Films

GreeneStreet Films

Screenwriter-director: Leon Ichaso

Producers: John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Tim Williams

Executive producer: Brad Yonover

Director of photography: Claudio Chea

Production designer: Sharon Lomofsky

Editor: David Tedeschi

Costume designer: Sandra Hernandez

Casting: Ellyn Marshall, Maria Nelson

Color and black and white/stereo


Miguel Pinero: Benjamin Bratt

Miguel Algarin: Giancarlo Esposito

Sugar: Talisa Soto

Tito: Nelson Vasquez

Reinaldo Povod: Michael Irby

Running time -- 103 minutes

No MPAA rating


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