Andrew Haigh is a brilliant director who is quietly building up an impressive filmography, his previous two films Weekend (2011) and 45 Years (2015) were both fantastic but I think Lean on Pete is better. The film was released in April this year to a small reception and little fanfare which is a shame because I believe it is brilliant.
Charley (Charlie Plummer) is 15 year old boy who lives with his father Ray (Travis Finnel) in a beaten up neighbourhood near Portland, Oregon. Ray is a single parent who evidently cares for his son but he is also a ladies man who seems more concerned with finding a replacement for Charley’s absent mother, they reside in a dilapidated looking house and live in unpleasant living conditions however they seem to be well attuned to this lifestyle.
The film opens with Charley getting up at the crack of dawn and he goes out run, t is obvious he uses this as a escape to clear his mind, he runs through some deserted car parks and quiet roads before arriving back at his home. We see Ray come in from his job as a chef and the two of them share a moment at the dinner table, Charley clearly wants more love and affection from his dad however he seems completely oblivious to his son’s desires.
As a viewer you feel sorry for Charley, he is a lonely kid who doesn’t have anyone to look after him, he looks small and timid but we see pretty quickly that he is very independent, due to the unreliable nature of his father he is often forced to look after himself. The film mentions that they have recently moved to Portland and this has caused Charley to lost contact with all of his previous friends, Charley also has a long lost aunt Margy (Alison Elliot) that he used to be close to, however a disagreement between Ray and Margy severed their relationship.
I was amazed by Charlie Plummer, his performance carries the film perfectly. I really connected with Charley and I sympathised with his situation, I connected with his loneliness and isolation and how desperate he is to relate to another person. The film never relies too heavily on melodrama instead when it decides to become emotional it feels earned and has a genuine impact. I loved Charley as a character and I really wanted everything to work out for him.
Ray invites over a new women Lynn (Amy Seimetz) for the evening and they all sit down to eat at the table, the next morning the women disappears never to be seen again. Afterwards Ray explains to Charley that Lynn has recently left her husband and could move in with them, this eventually comes back to bite Ray on the backside.
Charley decides to go out for a run and while out he encounters Del (Steve Buscemi), Charley approaches Del and the two start talking , Del asks Charley to help him out with his truck and afterwards he pays Charlie for helping him out, Del mentions that he needs help on his ranch and he offers Charley a job looking after his horses.
Charley needs money to help out his dad and he also wants a bit of company and guidance from Del, at first Del seems like a nice guy although a tad miserable, he decides to take Charley under his wing and he shows him the ropes. As Charley settles in and becomes more familiar with his job, he befriends an old horse named Lean on Pete. Del begins to rely on Charley more and more and he decides to take him out to his first racing track meet, this is the first time we see Lean on Pete in action and it is not a pretty sight. On the way there they pick up Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) who works as Del’s jockey.
I always enjoy watching Steve Buscemi and I think he does great job at playing a pretty unlikeable character, Del is a miserable person who occasionally shows glimpses of kindness. He looks fed up with his life and seems to take it out on everyone around him. He is a compelling character to watch and wish he was in the film more, Buscemi is a very underrated actor and his performance is one of his strongest in recent years.
Charley’s friendship with Lean on Pete might sound a bit dumb on paper but it works well, their friendship is built on loyalty and trust and the fact they can’t actually communicate doesn’t matter at all. Charley turns to the horse when he feels lost and helpless and being around the horse seems to put him at ease, they become closer as the films goes on and you buy every second of it.While at the racing meet we see that Del is up to some shady business and this seems to make Charley uncomfortable, we also learn that Del is really close to getting rid of Lean on Pete due to his age and poor performances on the track, this also makes Charley uncomfortable. After the racing meet concludes Del drives Charley back to Portland.
Charley walks back to his home and his father is there waiting for him, Ray questions where Charley has been and clearly looks angry. Charley explains himself and he is quickly forgiven by his father. Ray sits down with Charley and shares a beer with him, the two talk for a while until they hear a loud bang at the door. We see that it is Lynn’s husband and he looks furious, he breaks down the door barehanded and heads straight towards Ray.
The guy is huge and he throws Ray around like a ragdoll, Charley runs into his bedroom to hide with no way of helping his father. Ray gets punched and kicked and is left in a bloody mess. After the man is done Charley comes out of his bedroom and runs out into his neighbourhood to call for help, he eventually finds one of his neighbours and he yells at them to call for an ambulance, Ray is beaten almost to death and is taken to a local hospital.
This is a difficult situation for Charley, his father’s condition is unstable and he could die from his injuries, also his best friend will most likely be taken away from him never to be seen again. Charley inevitably loses someone very dear to him and this almost breaks him, however no matter how bad things get he still continues fighting. Charley breaks away from everything and ends up going on a grand adventure across the American frontier, the adventure is tragic, harsh and gruelling but he gets the outcome he deserves in the end.
Lean on Pete is a brilliant film it’s as simple as that, the film has beautiful cinematography and is wonderfully acted, the pacing is slow but it never drags, everything in the film feels deliberate and well planned. I love character driven films and Lean on Pete is one of the strongest I’ve seen recently, the film is a gruelling and emotional experience but it is certainly worth watching.