Full of wide, near-barren vistas and trying to fit three different films into one, Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete has all the hallmarks of a Brit director’s first foray to America. It gets lost in the vastness of the landscapes, buffeting between genres and sometimes uncertain of what it wants to be. Yet, Haigh keeps a throughline of sincere melancholy that elevates Lean on Pete above its faults, aided by a breakthrough performance from Charlie Plummer.
Plummer is Charley, a 15 year old who speaks so softly that his words barely exit his body. His life is both familiar and original for a film like this – though we’ve seen the ‘child moved around too much to have a real home’ trope many times, the genuinely caring relationship between Charley and his single father (Travis Fimmel) is a rarity, and one that is very comforting to watch. It’s a refreshingly upbeat look at working class itinerancy, before Charley gets a job at a racing track and Haigh pivots to a touching boy-and-his-horse story.
Lean on Pete transforms into an unfocused but powerful road movie after Charley gets some tragic family news and runs away with knackered horse Pete. It’s a bold move, as it completely leaves behind two excellent performances from Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny, the trainer and jockey who own Pete. It’s not an entirely successful gamble, but there are still some superb scenes in this final third, like a chance encounter with two kind-hearted, horse-loving veterans in the desert and a terrifying moment in which Pete tries to bolt after being spooked.
For a filmmaker whose previous two features have been positively tiny in scope, Haigh’s first trip to America is a flawed triumph, emotionally resonant and terrifically acted even when it’s biting off more than it can chew.
CAST: Travis Fimmel, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi
DIRECTOR: Andrew Haigh
WRITERS: Andrew Haigh (screenplay), Willy Vlautin (novel)
SYNOPSIS: Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table and a high school he can attend for more than part of the year. As the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, stability is hard to find. Hoping for a new start they move to Portland, Oregon where Charley takes a summer job with a washed-up horse trainer, and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete.[TRAILER FORTHCOMING]