Lean on Pete

Studio: A24
Directed by Andrew Haigh

Apr 04, 2018 Web Exclusive
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From the beginning of Lean on Pete, it’s obvious that life has been rough for 15-year-old Charley. He lives with his father, a man whose existence seems propelled by finding his next drink and bedding his next woman; they’ve moved around frequently since his junkie mother abandoned them during Charley's infancy. He's made peace with having to scrape by day-by-day, in a way that makes him feel far older than his age belies. He's likely never known a better life.

In his new home outside Portland, Charley lands a job helping out Del, an unscrupulous handler of race horses. Del’s best years – just like the glory days of horse racing, it seems – are long behind him, and now he travels around the region drugging his horses and racing them into the ground, until they’re broken and sold over the border to be made into glue. When the foot starts to go out on Charley’s favorite horse, a mediocre racer named Lean on Pete, Charley steals him and sets off in search of a kind, estranged aunt he hasn’t seen in years.

Lean on Pete is an absolute heart-breaker; the plot description above purposefully avoids several unexpected story beats. This is a rare drama where spoilers are a real danger; Lean on Pete’s rawest, most wrenching moments have a way of skillfully blindsiding viewers, and spoiling any of those would definitely lessen the movie’s impact. (There were more audible gasps from the audience during this film than in many horror movie screenings.) It’s an incredibly well-acted film, too – Charlie Plummer, in particular, as the teenage lead gives a potentially star-making performance. Save for one brief, slightly hokey-feeling moment when Charley starts divulging backstory to his horse, we’re given very little insight into Charley’s thoughts and inner monologue; the highs and lows of the film’s emotional journey must, instead, be read upon young Plummer’s face. Steve Buscemi (as the sleazy horse owner), Chloe Sevigny, and Timothy Zahn fill out the rest of the movie’s small yet formidable cast.

a24films.com/films/lean-on-pete

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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