Lean on Pete
Stars: Charlie Plummer, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny
Following Andrea Arnold’s submersion into Americana with last year’s sprawling, rich, American Honey, it’s the turn of another UK writer-director, Andrew Haigh, to bring an outsider’s eye to comparatively little-seen parts of contemporary America; and, like Arnold’s picture, it’s through the eyes of a young vulnerable protagonist. Excellent newcomer Plummer is the fifteen-year-old Charley. His mother walked out when he was young, leaving him with his good old boy, beer-swilling dad (Fimmel). They have recently moved to Portland and Charley has begun to gravitate to the race-track. Trainer Del (Buscemi) spots Charley mooching around, and takes him on as help, with Charley accompanying Del to out-of-town races. Charley becomes attached to the soon-to-be retired horse Lean On Pete, even though another new acquaintance, jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), warns him of getting too close. While adapted from the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin, the picture also nods to Ken Loach’s Kesand Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazarin its unsentimental but deeply humane worldview, with even Charley’s dad getting a fair hearing. And while the boy’s situation is often harrowingly precarious, Charley encounters empathy and kindness too. Danish cinemaphotographer Magnus Jonck’s blue-hued rendering of the vast Western vistas eschew romanticism but is beautiful nonetheless. A worthy excursion, but let’s hope the UK hasn’t lost Haigh for good.