SXSW 2018 Review: LEAN ON PETE

Charlie Plummer Stands Out in “Lean on Pete” Opening in Austin

 

By Liz Lopez

Rating: B

Based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin, “Lean on Pete” is based on the adapted screenplay by British director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”). The story is a sad one, but very real as it reflects the struggle that people with limited income and resources have. And worse yet, the effect that this has on the minor children often left fending for themselves, forced to grow up faster than other children. Some viewers may even begin to believe that this is a documentary about the young teen named Charley Thompson, because the young actor, Charlie Plummer (“All the Money in the World”), delivers a very strong performance that will elicit very deep emotions for anyone who has lived this life, or knows of someone who has. It is very difficult to see someone so vulnerable.

After his mother left when he was younger, Charley lives with his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), who loves drinking beer, bedding down the local and willing women and not as concerned as he should be about earning a living and being a role model for his teenage son. Recently moved to Portland, he discovers the Portland Downs racetrack while out for a daily run. Unfamiliar with horses nor the care for them, his curiosity leads him to ask questions. An older and somewhat questionable trainer, Del (Steve Buscemi) offers him a small job to earn “spending money” and that is music to Charley’s ears. Among the half dozen horses he learns to help care of, Lean on Pete is one he connects with, even after being told that he is not to – they are not pets. Charley bonds with him despite warnings from the jockey (and former waitress) who works with Del, Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) as she clearly sees him getting too attached.

Charley also forms somewhat of a bond with Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), who knows Del very well and she is kind to him while others show heartbreak. He does not know how to handle empathy by people, least of all when he is on the verge of being hauled in by local law enforcement and a waitress steps in. From childhood, Charley remembers his Aunt Martha (Rachael Perrell Fosket) who has long been estranged and he wants to see her again.

When Charley does open up to a new stranger who shows some interest to help him, Silver (Steve Zahn), turns out to be an abusive alcoholic and almost homeless man who is in it for himself. After a violent outburst from Silver, Charley still does not know who to react to the actions and consequences.

It is obvious Charley is painfully alone, and this is difficult to watch, but with scenes designed to linger long afterward. “Lean on Pete” should be viewed and contemplated. If you have seen the drama “American Honey” you already may know what I mean.

The film also stars Justin Rain, Lewis Pullman, Bob Olin, Teyah Hartley, Kurt Conroyd, Alison Elliott and Jason Rouse among others. The film is rated R for the language and brief violence.

Source: A24

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