Based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, Lean on Pete is the story of a 16-year old boy who works at a stable where he befriends an ailing horse as he deals with the horse’s fate. Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Haigh, the film is a study of a young man who cares for this racehorse as he does whatever he can to save it. Starring Charlie Plummer, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Amy Seimetz, Steve Zahn, Alison Elliott, and Steve Buscemi. Lean on Pete is a touching and heartfelt film from Andrew Haigh.
The film revolves around a 16-year old kid as he helps a horse owner in getting horses for a race where the kid befriends a horse named Lean on Pete as he deals with the horse’s declining health and the idea that he might be slaughtered. It’s a film that explores a young man trying to find some stability in his home life but also something to be attached to as he lives in Portland with his absentee father and doesn’t have much of a future until he helps a horse owner who gives him a job. Andrew Haigh’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative as it’s more of a coming-of-age story for the 16-year old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) who lives with his dad Ray (Travis Fimmel) who is having an affair with a married woman that would later have dire consequences involving her husband. Charley would help the aging horse trainer Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) who is dealing with declining funds as well as horses who aren’t delivering including Lean on Pete who could only do quarter-mile races.
While a jockey in Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) understands Charley’s growing attachment to Lean on Pete, she warned him to not get too close as the horse’s health is starting to fail forcing Montgomery to sell him and possibly to Mexico where he would be slaughtered. The film’s second act is about what Charley’s actions as it relates to the horse and what he hopes to do in trying to find his estranged aunt Margy (Alison Elliott) whom he hadn’t seen in years. It would be this moment that play into Charley’s own sense of loss and alienation as well as a world that is really complicated as he would encounter various people including a couple of former soldiers and a homeless couple as it would play into is view of the world.
Haigh’s direction is entrancing for not just the scope of the locations as it is shot on various locations around Portland, Oregon but also to capture the look of the American West that does feel disconnected from the rest of the world. The usage of wide and medium shots do play into the events that Charley encounters in the second act with Lean on Pete as it play into the journey these two would take. Haigh still infuses some intimacy that include close-ups as well as what Charley sees during the horse races along with these moments that play into his own sense of despair when he deals with reality. There are also these scenes that do feel loose such as a conversation Montgomery is having with other owners about changing times and how simple things were back in the 80s and 90s for the world of horse racing along with a scene in the bar where everyone is drunk while Charley wants to talk both to Bonnie and Montgomery. Haigh also presents scenes where there aren’t much dialogue or scenes that has Charley talking to the horse as it help play into this young man dealing with reality that is hard to digest. Even in its third act as he copes with the people he encounter and his own actions knowing he has made decisions that would put him in trouble yet is seeking to find some hope in a cruel world. Overall, Haigh crafts an evocative and intoxicating film about a 16-year old boy befriending an ailing race horse.
Cinematographer Magnus Joenck does amazing work with the film’s cinematography with its usage of available and low-key lighting for the scenes set at night as well as natural lighting for the scenes set in the day. Editor Jonathan Alberts does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few jump-cuts for a few dramatic moments as well as a few transitional dissolves. Production designer Ryan Warren Smith, with set decorator Jenelle Giordano and art director Jonny Fenix, does fantastic work with the look of the home that Charley lived in as well as a stable room where Charley stayed with Lean on Pete living next door and a trailer where Charley meets a homeless couple. Costume designer Julie Carnahan does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual to play into the look of the American West that include trucker hats, skinny jeans for the women, and other clothes that play into that world.
Visual effects supervisor Fred Ruff does terrific work with some of the film’s minimal visual effects as it play into a key scene in the film along with bits of set-dressing for the horse race scenes. Sound editor Joakim Sundstrom does brilliant work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the way some of the sparse moments in the film occur as it’s a highlight of the film. The film’s music by James Edward Barker is wonderful for its understated country-folk based score as it play into the drama while being low-key while music supervisor Connie Farr provides a soundtrack that is mostly diegetic as it’s played on location as it features pieces from Melissa Manchester, Melinda Salcido, Alih Jey, Lluvia Rosa, Jeannie Seely, Roy Drusky and Priscilla Hubbard, Faron Young, Larry Dean and Jonathan Sloan, Donnie Owens, Jeannie C. Riley, Sanford Clark, Brendan McKinney, Eddie M, Brandon Flowers, Selena Gomez, Tegan & Sara, Jessie Ware, Limb, Cut Yourself in Half, Will Oldham, Richmond Fontaine, Vic De Leon, and Donovan.
The casting by Carmen Cuba does superb work as it feature some notable small roles from Tolo Tuitele as Lynn’s husband who attacks Ray, Bob Olin as an old man in Mr. Kendall that Charley eats dinner with, Teyah Hartley as Mr. Kendall’s daughter Laurie whom he verbally abuses at, Justin Rain and Lewis Pullman in their respective as a couple of military veterans in Mike and Dallas who take Charley and Pete in for a bit, Steve Zahn and Rachael Perrell Fosket as a homeless couple that allow Charley to be with them for a bit, Amy Seimetz as Ray’s married girlfriend Lynn, Travis Fimmel as Charley’s absentee yet well-meaning father Ray, and Alison Elliott as Charley’s estranged aunt Margy who appears late in the film. Chloe Sevigny is brilliant as the jockey Bonnie as someone who is kinder to Charley but also warns him about becoming too attached to Lean on Pete as she also tells him about the reality he has to face.
Steve Buscemi is amazing as Del Montgomery as an aging horse trainer who has been through a lot and is a cynical person yet does give Charley a few life lessons but also appreciates the work that Charley puts through. Finally, there’s Charlie Plummer in an incredible performance as Charley Thompson as a 16-year old kid who is dealing with instability in his life where he then works in the stables and befriends this horse as he becomes attached to this horse while dealing with the reality that the horse has to face. Plummer brings this anguish and angst to the role that is understated but also someone who knows he is way over his head in what he’s trying to do while hoping to find a world that he can call home and with the horse he’s grown to love.
Lean on Pete is a phenomenal film from Andrew Haigh that features a great leading performance from Charlie Plummer. Along with its supporting cast, gorgeous visuals and locations, enchanting sound work, and its themes of growing pains and search for stability in a cruel world. The film is definitely a coming-of-age film that plays into a boy’s fascination towards a race horse and his hope to help this horse. In the end, Lean on Pete is a sensational film from Andrew Haigh.
Andrew Haigh Films: (Greek Pete) – Weekend (2011 film) - 45 Years
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