Directed by Andrew Haigh
Country: UK / USA
With a still short directorial career, Andrew Haigh has presented us thought-provoking dramas filled with honesty, emotion, and intimacy. Titles such as “Weekend” (2011) and “45 Years” (2015) are referenced as gems of the contemporary British cinema.
With “Lean On Pete”, the director shifts style, totally embracing American colors and practices without losing dramatic effectiveness. It’s true that this heartfelt story centered on Charley (Charlie Plummer), a 15-year-old boy who suddenly becomes orphan and homeless, is not as striking as the cited titles, but still presents enough emotional heft to keep you alert in a long journey of searching, subsistence, and settlement.
Charlie, a motherless teenager, loves very much his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), even if he has to spend several days on his own, with very little money in his pocket and no food in his stomach. They live happily together in Portland, Oregon, but the financial situation is precarious, which compels Charley to find a job. He is given an opportunity in a horse stable, whose owner, Del (Steve Buscemi), always pays him at the end of the day. However, whereas Charley gets emotionally attached to an old horse called Lean On Pete, Del only sees it as a business. Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), the experienced jockey who rides it, advises him: “He’s not a pet. He’s just a horse.” However, Charley can’t cope with the idea of putting the horse down just because he doesn’t win races anymore unless drugged.
One day, Ray brings a new ‘girlfriend’ home. A few days later he is brutally attacked by her husband and then taken to the hospital in a serious condition. Sadly, Charley becomes orphan, facing the possibility of going to a foster home if he doesn’t find Margy Thompson (Alison Elliott), his father’s former girlfriend, who once wanted to take him with her. Yet, he’s not willing to lose that horse without a fight either. So, he steals the horse and Del’s van and sets off on a trip where he is forced to rely on strangers to survive. Not everything goes as expected as some of the encounters turn into negative experiences.
The young Plummer acts with confidence and the character he impersonates, despite all the adversities, becomes a symbol of courage and tenacity.
Eschewing sentimental allure, “Lean On Pete” was based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. It’s a life lesson that stands above most of the coming-of-age dramas.