Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: LEAN ON PETE: A touching tale of a boy’s search for home [Venice 2017]

Charlie Plummer Lean On Pete

Lean On Pete Review

Lean On Pete (2017) Film Review from the 74th Annual Venice International Film Festival, a movie directed by Andrew Haigh, starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny. Adapted from the eponymous novel by Willy Vlautin, Haigh gives us a touching story about a young man’s odyssey through hard times and heartache in rural America. Lean on Pete follows fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson, a sweet athletic young man, as he takes a summer job, with a washed-up horse trainer, and befriends a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete.

Lean On Pete is not just about a boy and his horse. Otherwise, we could tuck this film away with Old Yeller, or Black Beauty. Instead, this film is more reminiscent of White Oleander. It is a slow-burning clinic on coming-of-age epics. Not only is the casting spot on, but the cinematography, direction and dialogue all work symbiotically to create a beautiful tear-jerking experience.

Plummer delivers a quiet, simmering performance as our animal-loving teenage drifter. It is easy to empathize with Charley throughout this sometimes heart-breaking story because Plummer has the ability to wear all of his emotions on his skin. The result is we see this 18-year-old thespian carry an emotionally weighty film with quiet dignity.

Yet, no matter how strong he acts, we never forget that Charley is fragile. There is something about Charley you just want to protect and hold dear. Through a series of unfortunate events in his life, he becomes destitute. We travel with him through his desperation in harsh circumstances, and it is difficult to watch this young man suffer.

Throughout the film, it seems like he is always holding his breath, which is funny, because at each turn of events he is running. Running for fun, running for his life, running for peace of mind. When he is walking, it seems only because he is tired of running. We never stop hoping that he will find a place to rest. It becomes obvious that part of his unrest lies in his abandonment issues due to having an absentee mother.

At the same time, because his mother is not around, we get to focus on the men in Charley’s life who shape him. At first, we see Charlie being loved completely. His single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), is a rolling stone who always seems to have a moment for his son. Fimmel and Plummer have amazing chemistry as father and son. Their wide grins across breakfast plates and similar masculine mannerisms are endearing.  From this warm nest, Charley is unexpectedly thrust into the hard world.

Steve Buscemi and Steve Zahn take turns impressing important lessons on Charley that hone his masculinity. Buscemi plays Del, Pete’s trainer, who imposes himself as a father figure in a way that feels unnecessary for a boy who is not lacking fatherly love. Buscemi’s usually gruff, gregarious style of interaction makes Charley’s laconic nature, adopted from his father, seem refined. Like Charley, we laugh at Del’s people skills, and only care to learn his animal skills, and he wholly fails at that.

Zahn was a surprising find in this gem. He played Silver, a charismatic big brother type that also feels off kilter. Regardless of the men he meets, Charley never feels at home like with his father. And, that is all Charley seeks – home.

That brings me to the cinematography, which is brilliant. When Charley is at home, it is like we are eavesdropping on domesticity, peering through doorways and peeking over tables. We secretly hope to leave him right where he is, safe and sound. We go from intimate moments of domestic tranquility to wide expanses of lonely country as Charley traverses the country side in search of a place for himself and Pete to call home.

Long, solemn moments in Charley’s life are not exactly tranquil. Conversation does not come easy for Charley because he is constantly uneasy. The overarching theme of Charley’s quest is about identity. He is traveling to reach himself as much as he wants to reach home. What Lean On Pete does, step by tentative step, is slowly make us yearn for a place of peace, not just for Charley, but for our own minds. Lean On Pete is a must-see.

Score: 8.5/10

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About the author


I am ...a lover of all things film ...a published poet with a law degree from Howard University School of Law ...a D.C. native, who frequents local and international film festivals ...a self-professed couch potato who can usually be caught watching anything produced by Joss and Jed Whedon. My favorite TV shows include the Buffy & Angel Series, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and The Shield. Still, I am open to everything on TV and Netflix, which is doing big things.

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