Lean On Pete sets out as what seems to be a warming tale of discovery. The story follows 15 year old Charley as he makes a connection with a racehorse called Lean On Pete. But it is much more than that. It is based on the book written by Willy Vlautin. The story builds slowly but hits hard with overwhelming tragedies that challenge Charley in immeasurable ways. Lean On Pete becomes a symbol of Charley's search for a new secure future as he faces life and death challenges on an epic road trip.
Talented British producer and director, Andrew Haigh brought Lean On Pete to the big screen. Providing an unsentimental presentation of this challenging story, it evokes masses of empathy. Haigh allows both the characters to evolve and the tension to build through the story without losing sight of its direction. The camera work is stunning panning across deserts, mountains and brutal scenes of urban poverty. This helps to carry the audience along with Charley in his quest to the very end.
This is a strong story of a young man coming of age and has a similar feel to the likes of Stand By Me. But as with that film, and many others in the genre, it takes a special young talent to grapple with the challenges of such a harsh script. Movies like Stand By Me and What's Eating Gilbert Grape had outstanding lead performances. River Phoenix, Jonny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio went on to amazing careers on the back of these films.
Lean On Pete could very well do the same. With a truly remarkable performance, Charlie Plummer carries this movie. The casting of the lead role was crucial and Charlie Plummer totally nails it. He is certainly one to watch for the future. Steve Buscemi gives a sobering performance as Del, an ageing racehorse owner who gives Charley a job as a hand in the stables. Chloë Sevigny links up well with him and Plummer enhancing the contrasts between these complex characters. Travis Frimmel from Vikings (review here) fame plays Charley's tragic Dad. It's a brave departure from the roles we usually see him in.
This movie was a real surprise for me. I watched it with little to no knowledge of the story and found the journey a bit of a struggle to start with. But that is part of the beauty of it. Andrew Haigh has created a true pressure pot of a movie that builds slowly applying tension with the precision of a surgeon right up to the final frame.