Lean on Pete

LEAN ON PETE. Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, and Steve Buscemi. Also, Alison Elliott. Directed by Andrew Haigh. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language). 122 min.

This British-American drama is based on the award-winning, 2010 novel of the same name written by author and country musician, Willy Vlautin. It tells the story of a 15-year old boy who becomes an unlikely companion to an ageing racehorse. It won the award for “Best Young Actor” at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival for Charlie Plummer, who takes the lead role in the film.

Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) lives with his single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel). Looking for  a new start, after his father’s marriage floundered, Charley moves with him to Portland, Oregon. Both father and son are eager for a fresh start, but life has not been kind to either of them. Charlie lives on the edge of poverty with a misfit dad who likes alcohol and women too much. He sleeps when he can, while his father carouses around, and Charlie has to face a different person each night his father brings a woman home. Charley finds casual work in a summer job working as an apprentice at a local racetrack. Work has him looking after a racehorse called “Lean on Pete”, and they form an attachment to each other.

Charley’s father dies after he is assaulted, and Charley is fearful of being taken into care. “Lean on Pete” has a crotchety, shady owner, Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), and a tired jockey, Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), but both Del and Bonnie help Charley cope with the absence of his father. Through them, Charley learns that his beloved horse is destined to be horse-meat in Mexico - which is particularly likely, given that the horse can no long win his races. To prevent the inevitable, Charlie sets out with “Lean on Pete” on a long, solitary journey across America to Laramie, Wyoming to re-unite with family that he lost long ago.

The film offers viewers a strong portrayal of a teenager at the crossroads of life. It uses sharp scripting, avoids sentimentality, and provides the viewer with stunning shots of the American landscape, all of which create a believable, realistic world. The character of Charley Thompson is acted by Plummer with sensitivity and depth. The beauty of the American landscape is never too far removed from the squalor that characterises much of the life that surrounds Charley. The film moves at a leisurely pace, but accumulates considerable momentum as Charley’s fate hangs precariously in the balance.

In Charlie’s epic journey across America to Wyoming, the film exposes the viewer to the depiction of rural America that is socially complex. It becomes a tale of survival with the odds stacked against Charlie and his horse. The result is a moving drama about a teenager, whose luck is running out.

The film captures poignantly the plight of a lonely young man who sets out to discover his future with the only friend he has, his horse, with whom he shares secrets as they walk along. Andrew Haigh, the movie’s Director paints the film’s scenes in fine detail, and the film shows a young boy’s moving search for someone, or something, to belong to. It is a compassionate movie about loss, acceptance and love that shows deep humanity. This is especially evident as the movie, which explores life at the fringes of American society, winds its way to an emotionally convincing conclusion.

This is almost, but not quite, a road-trip movie. The film confronts the viewer with the beauty of the American west, and mixes it with the ugliness of what society can deliver. The mix works, and scenes from the film stay vividly in memory as the final credits roll. Significantly, Charlie is never shown riding on the the back of “Lean on Pete”. Rather, horse and boy walk alongside each other the whole way, which emphasises the closeness of the union between them. However, the movie also teaches us that sad things can happen, when a boy and his horse become too attached to each other.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Transmission Films

Released November 29th., 2018


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