There's a whiff of the old bait-and-switch in writer-director Eric Eason's debut Manito, but the bait makes it hard to resist the switch. Manito begins with a New York train slowly pulling into the neighborhood of Washington Heights, where the dreams of the largely Latino, mostly first- and second-generation-American residents get lost amid the grimy bars and Payless shoe stores. For 18-year-old Manito (Leo Minaya), the unusual opportunity to leave arrives in the form of a full scholarship to Syracuse, and as his graduation approaches, his ex-con older brother (Franky G) finalizes plans to throw a party worthy of the achievement. In spite of his easygoing charm, G has problems of his own, as he tries to assemble a makeshift paint crew when his regular workers desert him, keep his wife manageably intolerant of his infidelities, and bar his father (Manuel Cabral), a former dealer caught in the backlash of the past decade's crack trade, from the celebration. Eason's digital images aren't pretty, but form matches content as captured moments and casual conversations combine to create a day in the life of a vibrant, perilous neighborhood. Minaya and G–whose performance suggests he should soon graduate from the bit parts he's been playing in films like Confidence and The Italian Job–effectively anchor the film, even once it takes a turn that upsets what's come before. After Eason spends so much time carefully establishing his characters, his decision to shift into the mode of exposé-aspiring melodrama comes as a jolt. But even when it doesn't work, his twist of fate and too-sudden ending seems as rooted in Washington Heights as the music that pours from the neighborhood's car windows, the smoke that billows from its late-night eateries, and the stoic resignation inscribed on its inhabitants' faces.