Dir: Andrew Haigh | Great Britain / 121’ | cast: con Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny
Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) directs Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny in a rather uneven rites of passage Pacific western, about a boy who bonds with an old racehorse, and based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.
Fifteen year old Charlie (Plummer) lives alone with his Dad Ray (Fimmel) in Portland,Oregon; Ray loves his sensitive son, but is too selfish to give him the time and attention he needs, since his mother left town due to Ray’s philandering ways. So when a vengeful husband kills Ray, Charlie is left alone in the world, apart from his aunt Margy, who fell out with Ray, for obvious reasons. Teaming up with the disreputable horse trainer Del (Buscemi), the two are soon joined by jockey Bonnie (Sevigny) leaving Charlie, in the cold again, when Bonnie takes over Del’s affections.. So Charlie turns a knackered racehorse, Lean on Pete, who is on his way to Mexico – an euphemistic term for the slaughter house. The pair runs away but their journey across the desert is painful for both, until finally the horse loses his life in a graphically shown accident, leaving Charlie to find the elusive aunt Margy in Laramie.
LEAN ON PETE is a lightly-plotted family film, apart from the animal tragedy. Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s stunning images make up for the lack of an absorbing narrative, which limps desperately on for two full hours. Haigh tries to see the good in everyone, often stepping over the line to out-and-out sentimentality. Professionally produced and well-acted, particularly by Plummer, who won the De Laurentis Prize in Venice for Best Newcomer Actor, LEAN ON PETE is not only lean of plot; but all the hard edges are polished too: Pete keeps a stiff upper lip and takes it on the chin. Some critics called it “a modern Huckleberry Finn” – but that would be insulting to Mark Twain. AS
SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER | VENICE REVIEW 2017