Huh… I feel like it’s been awhile since Steve Buscemi was put in a dramatic role that we were supposed to take seriously. No complaints, just… I wonder what attracted him to this role.
The story looks like it’s about a young man who starts living with grandfather on a ranch. He raises horses for racing purposes. The young man develops an attachment to a specific one, and when he learns that his grandfather is about to sell the horse, he take matters into his own hands to keep the horse for himself.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Charlie Plummer (ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD , THE DINNER ), Steve Buscemi (THE DEATH OF STALIN , TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT , NORMAN , and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3: SUMMER VACATION ), Chloë Sevigny (THE SNOWMAN , BEATRIZ AT DINNER , LOVE & FRIENDSHIP ), Steve Zahn (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES , CAPTAIN FANTASTIC , and THE GOOD DINOSAUR ), and Lewis Pullman (THE STRANGERS 2 , BATTLE OF THE SEXES , and upcoming films BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE  and THEM THAT FOLLOW ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Andrew Haigh, known for 45 YEARS (2015). Composing the score is James Edward Barker, known for stuff I’ve never heard of, and upcoming films MARA (2018) and FINAL SCORE (2018). The cinematographer is Magnus Nordenhof Jønck, known for stuff I’ve never heard of. Finally, the editor is Jonathan Alberts, known for EQUALS (2016).
This is my honest opinion of: LEAN ON PETE
Set in Portland, Oregon. Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year old kid living with his single dad, Ray (Travis Fimmel), just trying make ends meet. One day, as he’s jogging around, Charley happens upon a small ranch where he finds work with its owner, Del (Steve Buscemi), specifically caring for the race horses he raises. While working for Del, Charley gets particularly attached to a specific horse of his, Lean on Pete. After a while, Pete sustains an injury and is about to be sold off. Unable to bear the thought of what will happen to Pete, Charley takes matters into his own hands and steals Pete.
Fun fact: this is actually a British film, yet it’s filmed in Oregon. I’m very curious of how that works.
It’s been a long week, folks. Let’s see what I can remember. This may be a messy review, so bare with me.
I recall appreciating the family dynamic. The setting is kind of a slummy, redneck type of place and with a backdrop like that, the easy cliché would be to have the son and father constantly butting heads. Surprisingly, and happily, this isn’t the case. While the relationship between Charley and Ray is certainly not a typical father-son relationship, they do get along. Ray will talk about his sexcapades with his latest conquests and Charley will just laugh along. Ray gives him money to look after himself while he’s at work and is supportive of Charley when he finds work with Del. It’s a nice change of pace from the expectation.
Actually, that’s about the best aspect of this movie: the characters. They’re all complex. While certainly Plummer’s performance isn’t exactly a powerhouse, he does flawlessly get across that Charley is a nice kid who means well. He’s altruistic when it comes to caring for the horses, gets enthusiastic about the races, and has a deep level of empathy for the horses, especially for Pete. But when push came to shove, he’s not afraid to steal both a horse and his employer’s truck, dine and dash from a restaurant, and even kills a homeless man in later parts of the movie, making him a rather great character to follow. He starts off mild-mannered and the deeper into the complex nature of adulthood, he loses control. And the more he loses, the more he resists. What’s brilliant about the filmmaking as well is that the further along Charley’s travels he gets, the audience shares in his exhaustion. When he’s dehydrated and his lips are cracked, we feel that. Our feet hurt just as much as his. Loved that sense of immersion.
Already, we can expect a wonderful performance from Buscemi. The man’s a living legend. This is no exception. Del is amazingly complicated. On the one hand, he’s a hard-ass, doesn’t let much slide, is highly impatient, kind of sexist, and even kind of a scoundrel when it comes to paying the winners of races that he loses. Having said all that, he does give Charley a job. On their first outing together, he promises Charley twenty-five dollars for the work he puts in, but when it’s all done, he generously gives the kid fifty dollars, telling him that he did good work. Clearly, the man isn’t without remorse and helps Charley out a great deal. He holds an unconventional admiration for him, even though his compassion for the animals gets on his nerves. He pays for his meals, sometimes pays him upfront, but when Charley confronts him about Del’s decision to sell Pete, Del becomes extremely hostile and cruel.
Even though anyone would have reservations about the way Del talks to Charley, it’s easy to forget that there isn’t a real bad guy here. We understand both sides of this conflict. Del’s not a rich man and had very few horses to race and earn him money. If he can sell for a good price, he’s going to do it. It’s business, he’s a business man, and his horses, including Pete, are his products. He’s forced to keep himself detached, lest it drives him into ruin. But we also understand Charley too. He’s a naive, sweet-natured teenager who doesn’t want to see an animal slaughtered in another country. He treasures animal lives and only wants Pete to live his and not see it end because he’s got a hurt leg. While it’s fair to say that he’ll cause no end of financial and legal trouble for Del, we know that his heart is in the right place and he’s doing this out of compassion for Pete.
Having said all the positives, I do have one big problem with the film. The third act. Specifically, everything past Pete getting killed. Really think about it. He slips past the authorities, AGAIN, makes his way into a city, eats at a soup kitchen, briefly gets a job and money, gets that money stolen from Silver (Steve Zahn), and Charley kills him to get it back. What happens then? He… finds his aunt. He moves in with her, cries about Pete, and the movie ends while he’s on a jog.
First of all, while one could argue that Charley was in shock from Pete’s death, you would never guess that he was in shock because he’s never sitting down and we never see him take in those emotions. The movie just takes this kid from one scene to another with no emotional tie-in. Hell, by the time he meets his aunt, you’d swear that Pete wasn’t even in the movie. Meeting Silver and killing him? This doesn’t affect the story at all! Seriously, Charley just killed a man! Yes, a douche bag of a man who robbed him of his hard-earned money. Dude arguably had it coming. But… that’s still a life taken. Blood on the ground, a hysterical lover at his side… that’s not something you just walk away from and brush off! Again, when he reaches his aunt at the library, this never comes back into play. He even comments in one of the very last scenes, “If I go to jail, can I still stay here?” Um… this is a very good point, movie. Charley stole the following: a horse, a truck (grand theft auto), and food from a restaurant, AS WELL AS MURDER!!! No, seriously, the cops in this universe are ass-terrible. They lose him after his dad died, they never find him when he steals the truck, they lose him when Pete died AS HE WAS WITH THEM, and they never make an appearance after he kills Silver. What the actual fuck?!
But never mind the brain-melting legalities that Charley doesn’t have to pay for, I feel like he never really had a character arc. I mean, really, from the moment we first meet him to the end of his journey, did he truly develop or change? I don’t think so. He’s not more mature, he’s not more outspoken, he’s not less hard-working, he doesn’t change in the slightest. I’m sure someone out there will try and justify it by saying, “Yeah, think about all the crap he’s suffered and all the miles he walked. The fact that he managed to stay the same kind kid that he was in the beginning is inspirational!” Blow me. Need I remind you. Theft and MURDER!!! That changes someone whether they like it or not.
Overall, this is a good movie. It’s not great, thanks to the third act, but it’s got great and interesting characters backed by actors that range from solid to downright amazing, and a solid emotional journey. I just wish the payoff was more sensible. But as far as a recommendation is concerned, I think it’s worth checking out. Your best bet is a rental, but if you really want to check it out in theaters, keep it to a matinee or discount day. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t see myself seeing it again any time soon, but it’s still worth it. A flawed ending, but an overall emotional and well-executed boy and his horse movie.
My honest rating for LEAN ON PETE: 4/5
Next week reviews:
- BIG FISH & BEGONIA
- YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
- TRUTH OR DARE
- SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO
- THE RIDER