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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/11/03

2001 (2002) - Miramax (Buena Vista)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Piņero Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D

Specs and Features

94 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, keepcase packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 66:31, between chapters 10 and 11), A Look at Miguel Piñero, The Man featurette, original theatrical trailer, Sneak Peeks trailers (for Mexico City, Bravo Two Zero, Robinson Crusoe and Miramax Gold), film-themed menu screens, scene access (15 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Biopics are among the trickiest types of movies to get right. In terms of dramatic interest, not all lives are created equal. And even an inherently interesting subject is no guarantee that the movie will be worth remembering. Perhaps the most difficult profession to capture on film is writing. After all, even if the writer in question led the most booze-soaked, drug-fueled, gun-crazy life imaginable, there is nothing more boring than watching somebody write. The pros and cons of the literary biopic are well displayed in Leon Ichaso's Piñero.

Miguel Piñero was a Puerto Rican poet, playwright and occasional actor who emerged from the New York prison system with Short Eyes, a hard-edged, bracingly realistic play about life on the inside. The play won a number of Tony awards and was filmed in 1977. Ordinarily, a success of this magnitude would be enough to change the life of the writer. Tragically, this didn't happen with Piñero. Despite his newfound celebrity, Piñero continued to steal in order to fuel an increasingly out-of-control heroin addiction. At the same time, he founded Manhattan's Nuyorican Poets Café, where a style of oral poetry began to emerge that can now be seen weekly on HBO's Def Poetry. Regardless, Piñero continued his downward spiral until his inevitable premature death at the age of 41.

The big reason to see Piñero, the movie, is the central performance of Benjamin Bratt. Bratt's career so far has been limited to portraying a series of cops in TV series like Law & Order and movies like Miss Congeniality. In Piñero, Bratt is finally given an opportunity to flex his acting muscles and proves himself a magnetic leading man. Whether he's reciting Piñero's poetry or alienating his few remaining supporters and friends, it's virtually impossible to look away from Bratt. Unfortunately, his performance is in service to a scattershot and unfocused movie. Leon Ichaso's screenplay does a good job of incorporating Piñero's own words into fictionalized dialogue but fails to deliver a clear picture of the man himself. What lifts a biopic from being merely OK to something approaching greatness is its ability to tell us why the central character does what he or she does. It's on that level that Piñero stumbles. Ichaso does show us what he did and what made him an important Latino icon, particularly in a scene in which Piñero travels to Puerto Rico for the first time. But we don't see what made him so self-destructive when he seemed on the verge of having it all.

Perhaps appropriately for such a frustratingly incomplete movie, Miramax has released Piñero as a frustratingly incomplete DVD. The image is above average, accurately capturing the wide range of film stocks and grains used by cinematographer Claudio Chea. The audio is functional but that's about it. The first sign of trouble comes with the title of the brief making-of featurette: A Look at Miguel Piñero, The Man. Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't the movie supposed to be a look at Miguel Piñero, the man? Either way, the featurette doesn't shed much light on either the man or the movie, although it does include some interesting interviews with actors Rita Moreno and Giancarlo Esposito on their real-life encounters with Piñero. Apart from this, the disc has nothing to offer apart from trailers for this and a few other direct-to-video Miramax releases.

I should mention one other annoying oddity about this disc. The first thing you see after loading the disc is a menu screen with the highlighted words "Main Menu". This is not the main menu of the disc. You have to then press Enter and then you get to the main menu. Very strange, especially when you consider that this is hardly a fully loaded disc. Let's not be seeing this time-wasting feature again, OK?

Piñero isn't a bad movie by any definition and if you don't know much about Miguel Piñero already, you might find it worth checking out. But if you're familiar with his plays or poetry and are hoping to delve deeper into the life of this peculiarly destructive individual, you'll likely be disappointed. If nothing else, it serves as a nice calling card for Benjamin Bratt, who deserves better vehicles than he's received so far.

Adam Jahnke
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