If you purchase and watch any film this year it must be “The Poor & Hungry,” written and directed by Craig Brewer. This is a film steeped in reality with an ending that is resoundingly final and emotional. “The Poor & Hungry” pushes you to not just accept the plot, but understand it is a story that is the truth of so many lives. There is no pretense with this film; no hearts and flowers. This film is all about struggle that is broken up by happy moments here and there that carry the protagonists onward. Brewer brings us a story that shows how love, hope and promise can break through even the darkest of surfaces, but that sometimes it may still not be enough.

The characters depicted are so incredibly real and the performances are so strong. Protagonist Eli could have been that guy who lived down the hall from you in your old apartment building. Amanda could have been that overly serious girl you knew in high school, but you never bothered to find out how much deeper she went as a person. Harper could have been that “tom-boy” on your street who was always talking and running around, but who you pretty much tried to ignore. “The Poor & Hungry” gives you an up close and personal look into the lives and emotions of these people, taking you into their world where you come face to face with the realities that lie just beneath the surface.

As the film progresses we find ourselves fully engaged, nervously biting our nails and rooting for each protagonist, hoping to all high hope that their lives turn out OK. As Eli struggles to do his job, which is stealing and flipping cars, we constantly root for him to choose the woman he loves over the lifestyle he hates. We watch as Eli, Harper and Amanda work themselves to the bone trying to make any ends meet, whether they be financial or emotional ends. Our hearts break for them as we watch them struggle from one unresolved problem to another. Through all of this we are also shown a story of true friendship and true love. There is a real depth and development of character that I haven’t seen in a film in such a long time.

I had the opportunity to speak with Craig Brewer whose other film credits include “Hustle and Flow” (2005), “Black Snake Moan” (2006) and the 2011 remake of the classic “Footloose.” Brewer created “The Poor & Hungry” in 2000, and it went on to win the Hollywood Film Festival. From there it was aired a few times on IFCs DV Theater, but Brewer pretty much kept the film under wraps and off shelves since then. He said it was the film that truly got his career going as a filmmaker, citing this film as the project that landed him the gig working on “Hustle & Flow.” Brewer wanted to wait until he had the time and money to make this film properly and give it all he could to really make it great for distribution. Now, 13 years after its creation, “The Poor & Hungry” has been released on DVD and Blu-ray for us all to see.

This film is beautiful, it is thought provoking and it brings a truth to the table about how so many people live in this world. There are people who live with the daily struggle of what is right and what is wrong while just trying to live with the decisions they need to make to survive to another day. “The Poor & Hungry” puts us face to face with the lives, loves, struggles and losses of these people, and it is by far the best film I have seen in a very long time.