Lean On Pete
dir. Andrew Haigh
United Kingdom 2017
Coming of age issues, facing death and finding your place in life are the main themes of the Lean On Pete – drama directed by Andrew Haigh. It’s first American film of this British director, known for 45 years and Weekend, based on the best-selling book by Willy Vlautin. Great cast and universal story make it a treat, but an obscure title and describing it as „a movie about a boy and a horse” can discourage some viewers. Rest assured – you’re in for a treat.
Charlie Plummer plays Charley, a teenager raised by his father (Travis Fimmel), who not only struggles to make a living but also cannot quite get a grasp on his life. The result of that is a constant relocation, change of surroundings and existence on the peripherals of society. Charley would like some stability, school he can finish, the same group of friends, a football season when he can compete with his team. For now, he needs something other than idle sitting down at home when his father is at work. The boy goes on a run every day, further and further away from a caravan-house where they live. Partially to be in shape, partially – just to get as far as possible from those bleak surroundings. His attention is caught by the horse racing track and over there he meets a former jockey and owner of several horses – Dell (Steve Buscemi). The man offers him a job and the boy accompanies him and jockey named Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) in few local competitions. Charley makes some money on a side but also establishes a bond with a horse named Lean On Pete who, after five years, is getting closer to sports retirement. For an animal, it means it will be sold in Mexico (that is a euphemism for processing into meat). A dramatic event at home, caused by father’s explosive temperament, will make Charley rethink his situation. He will find himself in a completely new reality and he’ll need to mature very fast.
Plummer shines in this film and makes me think about similar roles by River Phoenix or Leo DiCaprio. It is a very toned-down performance and there is not much talking, but emotions are slowly simmering under the surface. The main character is rebellious and lost at the same time. He can’t accept the fate of the horse, who is a similar outsider like himself. Lean On Pete, fortunately, does not fall into the stereotypical portrayal of human and animal friendship – the steed is a symbol of a lost childhood when everything was possible. The same with other characters – they are three-dimensional people, who never fall into a movie stereotype (abusive father, slimy businessman, good foster mom). Dell and Bonnie first create a kind of dysfunctional family for the boy – until they completely betray his trust, putting the life of Charley’s favourite horse at stake. His dad is a gentle but lost man, who doesn’t know how to sort his life out. Buscemi and Sevigny are exquisite and it’s a joy to watch how amazing they get along on a screen with Plummer.
Polished and though-through cinematography creates almost iconic shots of a boy leading a horse through wildernesses of America. Wandering through those deserts and infinite landscapes, the teenager will try to find his own family – something, he has almost given up on.
Andrew Haigh once again created a movie that doesn’t fall into clichés despite using worn-out pieces of a movie-genre puzzle. It’s not a classic tear-jerker or a sentimental story. Lean On Pete is a mature road movie and coming of age drama in one, that will be appreciated by independent cinema fans and all those who love how beautiful cinematography turns dirty reality into small masterpieces.
A Curzon Artificial Eye release premiered in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on the May 4th.