FOUR STARS When Charley's father dies, he decides to rescue a horse from certain death.
Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi
From the marketing material, you’d be forgiven for thinking that LEAN ON PETE is some kind of Disney family film about a kid in love with a horse. Which it is, until it isn’t. And when the narrative turns, it turns dramatically and somewhat viciously from any conventional notion of the Disney experience. As much as this exceptional story is one for teenagers, it aint no family film.
For a start its young protagonist Charley (a note perfect Charlie Plummer) is left to fend for himself when his father is killed in a brawl. The sixteen year old had already found himself a job helping a horse owner (Steve Buscemi) and his jockey (Chloë Sevingy), but when he gets wind that his favourite racer is destined for a glue factory, he kidnaps Pete and they go in search of his estranged mother.
Things don’t go well as the narrative turns darker and bleaker, touching on homelessness, abuse and all things that go wrong when family or social support is abruptly terminated. The darkness is made more heart-breaking when you consider just how nice Charley is, a kid throughly undeserving of the pain foisted upon him. But then, who does deserve pain?
This is another tour-de-force from writer / director Andrew Haigh (WEEKEND and 45 YEARS). He maintains the fully-realised reckoning that made his previous relationship dramas so honest and powerful - he’s a man for observational detail and nothing escapes his patient gaze. He’s also a director for actors from whom he elicits terrific, heart-felt performances. Above all, he’s a writer who captures human impulse and failing without making either feel contrived or convoluted.
The result is going to grab you in the throat and punch you in the gut. It may be one of the toughest, saddest film you’ve seen in a while, but it’s also one of the most honest: something we should all celebrate.