Review: Lean on Pete is a heart-wrenching drama which avoids sentimentality

Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete - Credit: Archant

The fourth, full length feature from English director Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete tells the story of 15-year-old Charley as he forms an unlikely friendship with a fading race horse.

Living with his single father and struggling to make ends meet, Charley gets a summer job with Steve Buscemi’s race horse trainer Del.

But when Charley discovers his favourite racer, Lean on Pete, is bound for slaughter, he escapes with the horse and the two set out on a journey across the American frontier in search of a new home.

Fresh from his supporting role in Ridley Scott’s Oscar nominated All the money in the World, Charlie Plummer takes on the lead here and delivers a thoroughly endearing performance as Charley.

Steve Buscemi is at his grisled best as the weary Del while support comes from Travis Fimmel as Charley’s flawed but loving dad Ray and Chloe Sevigny the experienced jockey Bonnie.

Set in Portland, Orgegon and across America’s pacific North West, the film is full of dusty sunsets and swirling vistas which lend themselves perfectly to the film’s melancholic tone.

Charley, longing for connection, attempts to cope with the loneliness of his situation by confiding in the jaded racehorse, but as the pair continue their journey across the country, the film actively avoids sentimentality.

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Haigh’s script, based on a novel by American author Willy Vlautin, is refreshingly unpredictable and refuses to shy away from the harsher elements of Charley’s plight.

This is not the upbeat horse racing film that many will be expect.

It has a steady and contemplative pace which may seem too slow for some, but those willing to stay the course will find themselves drawn into the moving and at times heart-wrenching drama.

Overall, Lean on Pete is an emotionally charged tale about a young boy coping with loss, featuring excellent acting performances from some of indie cinemas very best.