A scene from 'Pinero'
Courtesy Photo
3.5 stars 95 minutes | Rated: R
NY/LA: Friday, December 7, 2001
WIDER: January 2002
Directed by Leon Ichaso

Starring Benjamin Bratt, Talisa Soto, Mandy Patinkin, Giancarlo Esposito, Rita Moreno, Nelson Vasquez, Michael Irby, Michael Wright, Jaime Sanchez, Robert Klein, Griffin Dunne, Fisher Stevens

Read our interview with Benjamin Bratt Interview with Benjamin Bratt

Read our interview with director Leon Ichaso for 1994's "Sugar Hill"


This is a big screen film, so the more theatrical you can make your home viewing experience, the better. You need to be completely enveloped in the movie to get the full sensation of Pinero's chaotic life. Turn off the lights and sit too close to the TV if you have to.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 07.16.2002
Miramax abandoned this brilliant movie after releasing it in a few theaters, and now they've dropped the ball on this DVD release, too. The film was shot in digital, but the transfer is from a print. The only bonus feature is called "A Look at Miguel Pinero The Man," and it's nothing but a promotional making-of with cast interviews that doesn't include one inch of footage of Pinero himself.

Having had a fascinating interview with Benjamin Bratt about this film, I have no doubt a commentary track would have been engrossing. So why don't we get one? The DVD is worth buying or renting just for the film itself. But I can't in good conscience give the disc a good review because nothing has been done right in this throwaway release except the movie itself.

Trailer (in 1.33:1 instead of widescreen).

1.85:1 ratio; Dolby 5.1 Surround
DUBS: none
SUBS: Spanish



 LINKS for this film
Official site
at movies.yahoo.com
at Rotten Tomatoes
at Internet Movie Database
Bratt sinks his acting chops into gritty, powerful biography of Puerto Rican playwright 'Pinero'

By Rob Blackwelder

Who'd have thought Benjamin Bratt could give such an impassioned, stormy, totally absorbing performance that he would leave you gaping in astonishment and admiration? But here he is, turning the warts-and-all biography "Pinero" into a film that simmers in your mind for hours after it's over.

Miguel Pinero was a Puerto Rican poet and playwright from the streets of the Bronx who captured the imagination of New York's culture vultures in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His prison-written, prison-based play "Short Eyes" won an Obie, was nominated for a Tony and was made into a movie, in which Pinero co-starred. He made a comfortable living writing for stage, film and TV, and he helped found the celebrated Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Yet for all his success, he never left his life of hard drugs and petty crime behind him.

With delicious, jazz-riff dialogue delivery and an unwashed cool, Bratt resurrects Pinero's broken soul for the screen so vividly and distinctly that in the 95 minutes he's on screen, it never crosses your mind that you're watching a performance. Pinero feels real.

Written and directed by Leon Ichaso ("Sugar Hill"), this far-above-average biopic is a gritty, personal stream-of-consciousness, digital-video poem that takes on its subject's manic energy. Its sometimes color, sometimes black-and-white, nonlinear narrative gives the film a real sense of artistic chaos -- the extreme ups and downs, the addictions, the recoveries, the relapses, the outbursts of Pinero's life. Diagnosed with cirrhosis of liver in an early scene, he's is given only months to live, and as a result the picture feels as if we're watching as the poet's life flashes before his eyes.

The movie is flooded with jumbled memories of his mother (Rita Moreno), a determined optimist in spite of her rough life, his abusive stepfather, his turn as a teenage prostitute, and his long-suffering girlfriend (Talisa Soto). Some episodes cut deeper than others -- like the night his protege Reinaldo Povod (Michael Irby) premieres a play on Broadway after Pinero has slipped back into a cloud of heroin and landed on the streets. He makes a scene demanding his complimentary tickets, then scalps them for a fix. (This point is driven home by the film's most startling and strangely beautiful image -- a syringe needle juxtaposed against the Empire State Building in the background.)

Neither Ichaso nor Bratt is afraid of the fact that Pinero is not an entirely sympathetic figure, even if he is a tragic one. When he says, "I'm sorry for my anti-social behavior. It's not a choice," he knows he's lying and he knows that you know it too. It speaks volumes of Bratt's performance that we understand why Pinero's own mentor, a Rutgers professor named Miguel Algarin (Giancarlo Esposito) continues to take him in, continues to try to see the good in him, even after Pinero steals his TV during an overnight stay.

The only part of "Pinero" that feels unnatural are the overly rhythmic partial performances of his plays and poems that appear in the picture. The writer's candid, abrasive poetry of profound racial politics, frustration, fear, anger and beauty can, and does, come off as pretentious when it's read with too much deliberateness and bravado.


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