Film Reviews

Hero and Villain

Miguel Piñero was poet, playwright and actor--and thief, liar and junkie. He was in Sing Sing by his early 20s, the iconic leader of New York's Puerto Rican artistic movement by 30, a dead junkie by 40; yet the causes for Piñero's life trajectory remain largely unanswerable. Leon Ichaso's new biopic of Piñero (with Benjamin Bratt in the lead) gives us a lot of data and background but doesn't really try to explain, as much as it merely presents. Ichaso--director of such less-inspired works as Crossover Dreams and Bitter Sugar--uses a mix-and-match patchwork of black-and-white and color shots, with lots of deliberately grainy 16mm footage and digital video tossed into the mix, all to simulate a sense of raw documentary reality to bring us closer to New York's grit and energy. The big surprise here is that Bratt--best known from TV's Law and Order and from mediocre performances in such less-than-mediocre films as The Next Best Thing and Miss Congeniality--totally redeems himself here and then some. His transformation into a stoned-out, wasted mess is completely convincing; it's the kind of flashy change-of-pace performance that has Oscar nomination written all over it, and deservedly so.