Film Review: Lean On Pete
Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Alison Elliott, Steve Zahn, Rachel Perrell Fosket, Lewis Pullman, Justin Rain, Bob Olin, Ayanna Berkshire, Amy Seimetz.
Running Time: 122
Australian Distributor: Transmission Films
Director/writer Andrew Haigh’s film, adapted from Willy Vlautin’s novel, becomes at its midpoint a road trip tale—only much of the trip is on foot, not by car, or even on horseback, even though it is the horse that is the cause for the trip. Although the horse in question gives its name to the film, this is really about the long journey that a lonely but determined teenage boy makes in his search for happiness, the emotional/spiritual journey being as long as the boy’s physical one, from Portland, Oregon to Laramie, Wyoming.
Charley (Charlie Plummer) has recently moved to Portland, Oregon, with his blue-collar, seldomly reliable father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Forced to become independent and often without enough food in the house, he takes a summer job helping out horse trainer Del (Steve Buscemi). Charley is at first wide-eyed over and intrigued by the horse-racing circuit, befriending longtime jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) and taking a particular liking to Lean on Pete.
When a series of untimely circumstances occur and it appears Pete’s life may be in danger, a desperate, grieving Charley hits the open road with his new friend. His goal is to ultimately track down his Aunt Margey (Alison Elliott), an estranged relative who showed him kindness and love as a kid, but the path to this uncertain destination is paved with more hairpin turns and unexpected hardships than he can possibly anticipate.
Everyone in the film has stories to tell, even if most are simply passing through. This attention to detail ensures even the smallest of roles—a teenage girl (Ayanna Berkshire) mistreated by her belligerent grandfather (Bob Olin); a slippery unemployed alcoholic (Steve Zahn) and his much younger girlfriend (Rachel Perrell Fosket); Ray’s latest married fling (Amy Seimetz), who stays long enough to fix Charley breakfast—casts an enduring imprint on Charley’s journey.
Tough to take but impossible to turn away from, “Lean on Pete” is unforgiving until, at long last, it isn’t – an indelible glimpse into the margins of American life as seen from the point of view of a boy in search of a safe place to call home.
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