Lean on Pete (2017)***

April 26th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Andrew Haigh | Great Britain / 121’ | Cast: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny

Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) directs Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny in a rather uneven rites of passage Pacific western about a boy who bonds with an old racehorse, and based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.

This is a film to be seen for its captivating performances rather than its meandering narrative that abandons the central soulmates (fifteen year old Charlie and his horse Lean on Pete) midday through to explore how the teen resorts to petty crime in order to survive as an orphan. We first meet him living alone with his sweary Dad Ray (Fimmel) in Portland,Oregon; Ray loves his sensitive son, but is too selfish to care for him since his mother left town due to Ray’s philandering. So when a vengeful husband kills Ray, Charlie is left alone and desperate to find his aunt Margy, who fell out with Ray, for obvious reasons. Teaming up with the disreputable horse trainer Del (Buscemi in fine fettle), the two are soon joined by jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), leaving Charlie in the cold again, when Bonnie takes over Del’s attention. So Charlie sets off on a mission to save the ageing racehorse, Lean on Pete, who is bound for Mexico – an euphemistic term for the slaughter house. Their soulful journey across the luminous desert landscape is painful for both, and ends in tragedy, leaving Charlie on an elusive quest for aunt Margy in Laramie, Wyoming.

LEAN ON PETE is a lightly-plotted family film, apart from the animal tragedy. Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s stunning images make up for an unsatisfying storyline that starts full of promise then Peters out, limping aimlessly for two full hours. Haigh tries to see the good in everyone, often stepping over the line to out-and-out sentimentality, but his central character does not deliver. Professionally produced and well-acted, particularly by Plummer, who won the De Laurentis Prize in Venice for Best Newcomer Actor, LEAN ON PETE is not only lean of plot; but all the social realist rough edges are polished too: Charlie keeps a stiff upper lip and takes it on the chin, but somehow his soul takes a short cut into rocky terrain rather than finding redemption in pastures new. Some critics called it “a modern Huckleberry Finn” – but that would be insulting to Mark Twain.


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