15-year-old Charley (Charley Thompson) has seen enough hardship in his young live to match someone three times his age. He has just moved to Portland with his dad from Spokane, Washington. He has two prized possessions a running and junior football trophy. His home is borderline condemned and there are rodents on the loose throughout. His only form of enjoyment is his morning run that one day brings him by Portland Downs where he meets Del (Steve Buscemi) who takes him on as an assistant for a small amount of cash.
Charley is in constant search of a mother figure. His ultimate goal is his Aunt Martha (Rachel Perrell Fosket) who her dad pushed away years ago. A fill in is Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) who works as a jockey for Del on occasion and is not opposed to his shady means to boosts a horses performance. After a tragic family incident Charley seizes the oppournity to save a labouring old quarter horse Lean on Pete and combine that with a trek to find his Aunt Martha in Wyoming. Along the way Charley's struggles get worse he's forced to syphon gas, beg for food then ending up emaciated and homeless.
Director Andrew Haig tells a tale of a young teenage that starts out badly then progressively gets worse. Charley comes across many people who are sympathetic to his situation even though many of these encounters could have been the final straw in a short desperate life. This is not an uplifting journey of discovery for a young adventurer. Cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jonck deserves special mention as the second half of the film is mainly shots of Charley wondering the Western countryside. Jonck delivers the greens, blues, browns and oranges of the tapestry to the screen. Nighttime scenes with a fire flickering or headlights cutting through the darkness on quiet highways set the tone for the cold quiet isolation of the lead character.
The ensemble cast settle comfortably into their roles. Charley Thompson is perfectly cast as the frail 15 year old teen whose mom walked out on him in his youth and dad moves him from city to city across the Northwest seeking warehouse work. Travis Fimmel as is dad Ray still has some of his boyish charm that helps him with the opposite sex but gets him in trouble with their regular partners. Shady horse trainer Del Steve Bushemi teaches Charley more at a couple of out of town races about manners and hard work that his father ever has. Look for Steve Zahn in a small role as Del who takes an interest in Charley after a meeting in a soup kitchen offering him a place to sleep and get off of the streets.
Lean On Pete is the story of a young teen that due to circumstances has to grow up much to fast. All he is looking for is a shot of stability a chance to settle into a regular schedule and a warm roof over his head at night. It's a road film where the main character meets many an in testing character along the way as he tries to get to his fabled Aunt Martha who could be his symbolic unicorn
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
Lean on Pete | Andrew Haig | UK | 2017 | 121 Minutes.
Tags: Horse Training, Running, Junior Football, Claim Racing, Boosting, Drug Testing, Mexico, Slaughterhouse, Dine and Dash.