by Charles Kirkland Jr.
Charlie Plummer turns in an effort worthy of award consideration in the tender-hearted indie drama, Lean on Pete.
After coming back to their small mobile home from his morning run, Charley Thompson (Plummer) meets his dad’s latest girl, Linda, a married but separated woman who happens to be a secretary with whom he works, as she is making breakfast. Charley’s dad, Ray (Travis Fimmel) has struggled since his wife (Charley’s mother) left him. Yet, he considers himself a good judge in women and Linda, although married to a big Samoan, must be pretty smart because she is after all a secretary. Charley, in an attempt to have some time with his dad, tells his him of the nearby horse track he saw on his run and asks to go with him. Ray tells him that he has to work and leaves. Charley goes to the track alone and meets Del (Steve Buscemi), a stoic, beaten-down horse owner, who promptly hires him to help with his horses. Del teaches Charley all the ways of horses including what happens to them when they don’t win. Charley meets Lean On Pete, a five-year-old quarterhorse who is quickly coming to the end of his run. Against all advice, Charley becomes attached to Pete. When life at home takes a turn for the worse and Pete’s luck is running out, he takes the horse on a trip to find safety and salvation.
Director Andrew Haigh (45 Years) helms this intense portrait of a boy who is forced to deal with a terrible life and even more terrible news. Much like he did with Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Haigh seems to be a master at creating tense and emotional atmospheres and puts relative newcomer Plummer (All The Money In The World) in much the same circumstance. Plummer’s acting is clearly placed center stage in the movie and Haigh cultivates those abilities into an Oscar quality level of performance that belies his age and experience. Plummer is wistful, sorrowful, fearful and smart while also being naïve and innocent at the same time in almost every scene of the movie. Plummer communicates the emotion of each scene so well that it goes unnoticed until it is too late and the viewers are synced up with him.
Written by Haigh based on the book by Willy Vlautin, the symbolism in Lean on Pete is only slightly subtle. Charley has a penchant for taking care of losers in the film (his father, Del and the horse Pete) but soon realizes that he himself is a loser and that he must take care of himself. Of course, he has been warned by all those around him that he needs to do so, but it takes extreme measures for Charley to come to grips with the advice.
The pacing of Lean On Pete is deliberately slow and purposeful as the director utilizes every second of the two-hour movie to tell a tale of love and loss through the fearful eyes of his actor. Normally, a movie that moves this slowly would be a problem but for the development of the story in this feature not only is it justified but it is necessary.
The amazing part of the story is the times how Charley avoids real trouble throughout his whole journey. Although a possible resolution is implied at the end of the movie, a question comes to mind about the consequences that Charley should have to face for his actions. The drawback is that the movie condones illegal behavior by not giving air to the legal ramifications of Charley’s actions.
Rated R for language and brief violence, Lean On Pete is a different type of coming-of-age story. Unlike many other films of this nature that chronicle years of time, Pete critically portrays one specific span of time in the life of a teenager that will define the rest of his life. It is a tense, heartbreaking and emotionally rewarding journey that is well worth the wait.