It’s the odds couple in Lean on Pete
Beautifully shot coming-of-age story follows a teenager who takes a shine to a horse at the end of its track career
27 April, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
Charlie Plummer as Charley in Lean On Pete
LEAN ON PETE
Directed by Andrew Haigh
POVERTY robs a child of innocence. That is the basic message behind this harrowing, moving, warm and thoughtful coming-of-age film.
Charley (Charlie Plummer) is the 15-year-old with a loving father who likes a drink and loves to womanise. They live alone – his mother has long disappeared – and have recently settled in a clapboard shack in the scrubby outskirts of Portland. His father has a nondescript job that just about brings home enough to feed them, Charley doesn’t do school and the pair rub along nicely together.
Charley, a keen runner, one day jogs to a nearby horse track and, at a loose end, is given some work by down-at-heel trainer Del (Steve Buscemi).
Del runs his horses into the ground as he takes them on the race circuit and isn’t above giving them a shot of banned substances to get them over the line in first place. When his four-legged beasts, seen purely as economic units (and as a metaphor for post-2008 American industry, failing economic units at that), have run themselves into the ground, he sells them off to become cat food, glue or, suspiciously in Charley’s eyes, says they “get sent to Mexico”.
Steve Buscemi as Del
Charley takes a shine to Lean On Pete, a five-year-old coming close to the end of his track career. Along with sweet-natured, bashed-about jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), the trip zig-zags from one dusty arena to another, trying to carve enough to keep going.
That’s the basic premise of this beautifully shot film and, from here on in, things take a tragic turn leaving Charley in a position where he must fend for himself and the horse he has become attached to as they seek safety on fresher pastures.
Based on Willy Vlautin’s novel, Lean On Pete tells us about what it means to be a child in an adult’s world where the adults aren’t behaving themselves. It paints a fairly bleak – but non-sensational – image of modern America. It takes iconic imagery from our idea of what America means – diners manned by sad waitresses ordered around by overweight cash-till bullies, battered pick-up trucks, dusty plains, tartan cowboy shirts, great big starry skies. It is as if Woody Guthrie had been dumped into the modern age and asked to visually create new ballads of the second Great Depression.
Lean On Pete is a film that requires some patience, but it is very much worth it. Plummer is superb in the lead, utterly crushed through his own innocence, but also rising up against the challenges by his youthful flexibility. Every other actor who stumbles into his sphere adds a layer to his experience in a terrifically believable way.