LEAN ON PETE

LEAN ON PETE

(director/writer: Andrew Haigh; screenwriter: novel by Willy Vlautin; cinematographer: Magnus Jønck; editor: Jonathan Alberts; music: James Edward Barker; cast: Charlie Plummer (Charley Thompson), Travis Fimmel (Ray), Steve Buscemi (Del Montgomery), Chloë Sevigny (Bonnie), Steve Zahn (Silver), Rachael Perrell Fosket (Martha); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Tristan Goligher; A24; 2017-UK)

Emotionally moving unconventional arthouse poor boy meets poor horse drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is from an aging racehorse. It pans out as a great character study of people and horses. But does not work as a children’s picture–it’s too haunting and downbeat for that. British filmmaker Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”/”45 Years”) is writer and director of this emotionally moving unconventional arthouse poor boy meets poor horse drama that miraculously never becomes sentimental and ends surprisingly in gloom for a boy’s adventure story. It’s based on the novel by the Portland, Oregon native Willy Vlautin.

It tells about the loner sensitive 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer). The kid just relocates during his summer holiday from high school to Portland with his screw-up, pot-bellied, itinerant single father (Travis Fimmel, a former Calvin Klein model) and finds the nearby third-rate local racetrack interests him. There he meets cranky but kind horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi), who offers him part-time work cleaning the stables. At the job he learns a lot about caring for horses, while meeting others at the track he can relate to like the psychologically wounded jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny). Soon he forms a bond with the 5-year-old quarter horse Lean on Pete and also a friendship with the jockey. As time passes, he sees the ugly side of the business, of how the horses when they can’t race any more become expendable, like Lean on Pete, and can be sold for horse meat in Mexico. This is too much for the kid, who thinks of the horse as a kindred spirit and thinks they both can escape from their destiny by going someplace else.

This tale of a neglected teenager steers clear of being a tear-jerker by its gritty humor, its prevailing horse sense and the way it keeps itself sparse in a detached Bressonian way. It’s a stinging coming-of-age drama, that is good at observing nature, people and animals in a lyrical way. It takes a familiar story and puts a different face on it. Plus it gets terrific performances from Pete, Charley and from a wonderfully complex character played byBuscemi.

There’s also a catchy performance by Steve Zahn that comes in the second part. Though it is not entirely successful, as its journey away from Portland has too many turnoff pitfalls. Yet the road movie has a big heart and its most simple scenes are the ones that offer unexpected warmth.

Ryan Warren Smith in Lean on Pete (2017)

REVIEWED ON 9/21/2018 GRADE: A-   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/