Lean on Pete
4.5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Andrew Haigh
prd Tristan Goligher
with Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Zahn, Amy Seimetz, Teyah Hartley, Justin Rain, Lewis Pullman, Bob Olin, Rachael Perrell Fosket, Jason Rouse
release UK 16.Feb.18
17/US Film4 2h01
Lean on Pete
A horse and his boy: Pete and Plummer

buscemi sevigny zahn
venice film fest
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Lean on Pete There's an unusual depth of character to this finely crafted odyssey about a teen who hits the road in a last-gasp effort to find some hope. While there's plenty of potential for bleakness, writer-director Andrew Haigh instead infuses the film with warmth and honesty, facing the darkest moments head-on as the only way to get through them. It's an extraordinarily tough story told with a light touch that brings the viewer right into the journey.

In Portland, Oregon, 15-year-old Charley (Plummer) lives with his womanising single dad Ray (Fimmel) until the husband of his latest girlfriend (Seimetz) puts Ray in hospital. Determined to avoid social services, Charley hides out in the stables of horse owner Del (Buscemi), where he has a summer job. Against the advice of Del's jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), Charley has become particularly attached to a 5-year-old quarter horse named Lean on Pete, and when his situation takes a turn Charley steals the horse and goes on the run in search of his aunt in Wyoming.

The film's meandering tone-shifting is sometimes tricky to get a grip on, as Charley meets a series of disparate people along the way. Some of them barely flit across the screen, while others become proper characters who are funny, helpful or scary. Most intriguing, Haigh never sentimentalises this story of a boy and his horse: it's both gritty and human, with moments that are seriously horrible, all seen through Charley's underdeveloped perspective.

Plummer uses his slightly too-lean athleticism to convey a troubled inner life. Charley's thoughts are unformed and his decisions impulsive, which makes him tricky to sympathise with, and yet we yearn for him to find a positive role model and perhaps a happy family like the ones he quietly notices around him. Other roles are fleeting but effective, including the eponymous horse, who exits the story in a jarringly nasty way, mainly because Charley doesn't want to see more.

This insistence on holding Charley's perspective without offering easy explanations or corny solutions makes the film difficult for viewers who want a nice tale for all ages. No, this is a grown-up movie provocatively exploring about how it feels to have a troubled back-story that makes it difficult to turn the corner and find a promising future. In other words, it's almost frighteningly easy to identify with Charley, and by refusing to simplify him or make his story feel cosy and cute, Haigh is challenging us to be honest about our own experiences.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Sep.17 vff

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall