sat 21/09/2019

Lean on Pete review - a different kind of road trip | reviews, news & interviews

Lean on Pete review - a different kind of road trip

Lean on Pete review - a different kind of road trip

British-made, American-told film on loss and abandonment

Charlie Plummer carries the film with a performance beyond his years

British director Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete is a heartfelt and surprisingly stark affair. Based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin, the film follows a young boy and his stolen horse across America. Despite its simple premise, Haigh and his lead Charlie Plummer (main picture) deliver a complex and moving piece of cinema.

Charley is a quiet 15-year-old, malnourished and poorly supported by his father Ray (Travis Fimmel), who mostly drinks beer and brings home women. There’s an awkward but distant love between the two, both evidently still struggling from Charley’s mother walking out. Newly moved to Portland, Charley discovers a nearby horse race track and soon bags a job helping racehorse-owner Del (Steve Buscemi, pictured below, with Plummer).

Charley enjoys the work, mostly because it keeps him distracted from his home life. He takes a shine to one of the horses, the titular Lean on Pete, but becomes concerned when cash-strapped Del starts drugging and overworking the horse. After a jealous husband brutally attacks Ray, Charley directs his full attention to the welfare of Pete, eventually stealing him to travel to a lost aunt in Wyoming.Charlie Plummer and Steve Buscemi in Lean on PeteOn paper, Lean on Pete could easily settle into a sweet animal/human interest story, delivering feel-good moments and emotional manipulation. However, don’t be fooled by the film’s gentle pace – it does not sugarcoat things. Charley’s journey takes some dark turns, but the careful groundwork laid over the first hour means the scenes hit hard but never feel misplaced. Like The Florida Project, this film takes a sympathetic but unflinching look at the American working class.

The film beautifully portrays how people deal with loss. From the moment we meet Charley, he carries its weight on his shoulders. As his losses compile, he bottles them up, putting all his energies into his horse. But it’s not about Pete, despite the film’s title – this is about a teenage boy and his desperate, often damaging attempts to avoid being perceived as a victim.

Charlie Plummer anchors the film with an astonishing central performance. He physically evolves as the story progresses, the toll of the journey ageing and wasting him. He finds the right balance between vulnerability and determination, a child running from his demons. He's supported by a cast of familiar indie film faces, including Chloë Sevigny and Steven Zahn, all of whom bring nuance to their troubled roles. It feels as though everyone could have once been Charley, and if he's not careful, he could end up like any of them.

Like the story’s pacing, the filmmaking is subtle. The camera doesn’t show off, but finds moments of quiet beauty across the different landscapes. Strains of James Edward Barker's score interlude the quiet moments, but leave the drama to the characters. Everything is purposeful, a testament to the talent that Haigh demonstrated in his previous film, 45 Years – a very different film, but equally reliant on strong performances and personal storytelling. You won’t notice when this film takes its hold, but you’ll notice when it goes at the end.


The camera doesn’t show off, but finds moments of quiet beauty across the different landscapes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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