Based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, film festival favorite Lean on Pete tells the poignant story of of a teenage boy and his strong connection to a horse.
Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) hasn’t had an easy life living with his father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Charley’s mom is out of the picture and looking for meaning in his life, he turns to the Portland Downs racetrack where he meets Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) and jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny). Working with these two, Charley develops a strong emotional bond with a Quarter Horse, Lean on Pete.
Del serves as a father figure after Charley’s dad leaves the picture. It’s when Del informs Charley that Lean on Pete was sold and will be slaughtered that Charley decides to run away and take him with him. Rather than focus on the racing, the film turns focus to Charley’s search for his aunt, Margy (Alison Elliott), whose whereabouts are unknown. Charley will do whatever it takes to find her even if it means being homeless and living with Silver (Steve Zahn) for a few days.
Lean on Pete is a film that could have very well been released in the 1970s. It has that kind of vibe going for it. Haigh’s script and Magnus Joenck’s cinematography keep the focus framed entirely on Charley. While in the desert, Joenck is able to capture the scenery so beautifully. Plummer was a virtual unknown until breaking out in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in The World in December. Plummer brings so much emotion into his role as Charley that one can’t help but sympathize for his situation. It’s a great follow-up to the previous role and leads one to look forward to what the teenager will do as he makes his way further in his career.
Steve Buscemi brings a lot to his performance even as his character isn’t perfect and displays some cynicism in his treatment of Charley. While it’s likely too early to discuss Awards Season for this year, Buscemi delivers a strong supporting performance that’s worthy of being kept in the conversation.
The film isn’t without some moments that will absolutely wreck the viewers. There isn’t a disclaimer at the start of the film so consider this a warning. This isn’t to say the film isn’t worth seeing because the emotions are strong and run high in viewing.
An homage to the works of John Steinbeck, Lean on Pete is full of so many themes that will drive the emotions home so it wouldn’t be unwise to have a Kleenex handy.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Andrew Haigh
CAST: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Justin Rain, Lewis Pullman, Steve Zahn, Alison Elliott, with Travis Fimmel and Steve Buscemi.
A24 released the film on March 30 (NY & LA) with theatrical expansions to follow on April 6, April 13, and April 20. The film is expected to go wide on April 27.