An early contender for 2018 critical darling, Lean on Pete should win over all but the most recalcitrant horse-hater. Poor teen Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer, surely a candidate for breakthrough performance of the year, an impressive feat for someone who looks so much like Chad Michael Murray) lives with his kind but flawed ladies’ man of a father (Travis Fimmel, “Vikings”). Finding monetary and emotional satisfaction from a summer job caring for the low-end race horses owned by a grouchy trainer named Del (Steve Buscemi), the motherless, seemingly friendless Charley also finds a pal in Lean on Pete, a Quarter Horse at the end of his racing career.
After a family tragedy, Charley exhibits the arrogant nearsightedness of a teen with little life experience and steals the glue-factory-bound (one assumes) Pete before embarking on a multi-state quest to find his estranged aunt. Ultimately, this mission leads Charlie and the viewer through an excessively bleak final act (thanks, Steve Zahn) that seems to belong in a different movie. Trust 45 Years writer-director Andrew Haigh. What may seem like a lot of work to get to such a brutal end is necessary to get Charley where he needs to be.
One does begin to wonder when Lean on Pete takes place; what seems to be a modern world is inhabited by broke folks who still use pay phones and road maps. Extra points are earned for its use of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s stunning cover of “The World’s Greatest” by R. Kelly.
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