Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Amy Seimetz, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny
A teenager gets a summer job working for a horse trainer and befriends the fading racehorse, Lean on Pete. (Source: IMDb)
With a relatively small release, it was easy to overlook this film last year, but after seeing it come up on a number of year-end lists, I decided to give it a slightly belated first watch at home. And in trying to at least start the year as I mean to go on in terms of increasing the content and reviews on Sarah Saw a Movie, I thought I’d give some quick thoughts on this underrated gem.
Whilst on the surface this appears to be a simple “boy and his horse” drama, there is a lot more to Lean on Pete than that, and the way it handles its quietly surfacing emotion is particularly poignant.
An unsettled upbringing has left teenager Charley (played magnificently by Charlie Plummer) feeling a little lost, and the film initially follows his journey to find purpose and meaning; a journey which leads him to racehorse handler Del (Buscemi) and the racehorse Lean On Pete. Forming a bond with Pete, Charley embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he deals with unimaginable tragedy and hardship.
What struck me the most about Lean on Pete was it’s unrelenting stillness. In any other film, the moments of emotion and tragedy would be accompanied with soaring strings in order to achieve the desired gut-punch effect. But in Lean on Pete the emotion is dealt with very differently, sometimes quite offhand and subdued; something which served to be one of the film’s strongest points.
Seeing the film through the eyes of Charley, there is a sense of repression when it comes to emotion. He is young and figuring out life as best as he can, given the circumstances he finds himself in. It is this quiet and subdued handling of emotion that makes this film truly devastating, and there’s moments that will absolutely destroy those of an emotional disposition; particularly if like me you are an animal lover.
It loses a little bit of momentum in the final act; the conclusion and end-point seems almost inevitable by this point and watching a character that we empathise with so strongly suffering endless hardship after hardship, becomes almost too much. There is still however a beautiful lingering quality to Lean on Pete, and it’s certainly a film that will stick with me.
The performances are great all round, but it is newcomer Charlie Plummer who really surprises. He has to carry the entire film pretty much, and whilst this is a huge burden to be carried on young shoulders, he executes it perfectly. Even when his actions are questionable, he has our sympathy and our support, which makes for a consistently engaging narrative.
The cinematography is also stunning, particularly in the bleak landscape shots, and really helps to emphasise the scope of the journey Charley is undertaking.
I saw this movie and you should too. Lean on Pete is a gorgeous, emotional gem of a movie which, had I seen on time, would almost certainly have found a place amongst the best films I watched in 2018. Whilst also a film about an actual journey, it is more so a film about a boy’s coming of age journey, learning to find himself and his place in the world. Charming, endearing, subtle and with wonderful performances, Lean on Pete might just surprise you as well.
Lean on Pete is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.