Pinero’s hard-knock life


Directed by Leon Ichaso

(Benjamin Bratt, Mandy Patinkin, Rita Moreno)




If you’ve never heard of Miguel Pinero, you need to see this movie. It’s simple, really. After seeing this film, I’m convinced that everyone must be exposed to his visceral, electric, heart-rending poetry.

Writer/director Leon Ichaso’s elegy to the Latino poet/playwright features a variety of rising and classic talent, but never loses sight of the real star-the words the artist left behind.

The film opens in documentary style, with a television interview of Miguel (Benjamin Bratt) at the height of his career. From that point, it flashes among his childhood in Puerto Rico, his time spent in prison and the dangerous, drug-induced paths he traveled to get to each place. Interjected throughout the film are captivating readings of his poetry and plays.

While serving five years in Sing Sing for stealing, Pinero wrote a play called Short Eyes, starring his fellow inmates. The play was nominated for six Tony Awards and was made into a film in 1976. He eventually went on to write for such prime time television shows as Miami Vice and Baretta. Despite these successes, he never stopped stealing or using drugs, believing firmly that for his work to be meaningful, he had to live a harsh, precarious existence.

Bratt, looking a little like Che Gueverra in some scenes, is inspiring. His readings of Pinero’s poetry are especially bewitching. Think of Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Jim Morrison.

Rita Moreno, as Miguel’s troubled mother, is imposing. Best known for her role as Anita in West Side Story, Moreno runs the gamut of maternal emotions, encouraging her son’s talent in one scene and lamenting the loss of the little boy who used to bring her flowers and write her poems in the next. It’s a delight to see her dancing on New York rooftops again.

Infused with an energetic Latin jazz soundtrack, Pinero offers insight into the life of this undersung bad-boy genius whose urban poetry is now recognized as a precursor to rap and hip-hop. Whether you love Latin jazz, think Benjamin Bratt is a hottie, or just want to hear some great poetry, don’t miss this movie.

-Lora Barstad

Pinero opens this Friday.