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LEAN ON PETE gets 7.5/10 Horsin’ around

Directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny


If you’re after a powerhouse of an emotional journey, then Lean on Pete may be the film of Lotterywest’s Perth Festival season for you. This is the sort of film that you sit back and simply take in, letting yourself be washed over by the ferocity of emotions that it so effortlessly displays. It’s purposefully held back so that the emotions don’t overwhelm the audience or venture into sentimental territories – Lean on Pete is hard-going realist cinema that shows a flawed, yet ambitious tale of a boy growing into a man.

Charley (Charlie Plummer) decides to work as a helper for Del (Steve Buscemi) and his racehorses, which he travels to various race-tracks in Oregon to make a quick buck with them. After some family troubles at home, Charley ends up living in the stable with one of the horses, Lean on Pete, who he becomes fond of, especially when this racehorse is due to be retired. Lean on Pete soon becomes a coming-of-age road movie as Charley traverses the Oregon landscape, always trying to escape what just came before him without knowing his destination, but becoming more aware of what it may be.

The restraint of the film, in how much it decides to show, works for and against it. It does mean the emotional intensity is held at a good level, so that it seems harshly realistic without getting anywhere near overly dramatic. Scenes are allowed to develop naturally and authentically without having to spell out how the audience should feel about them – the emotional power of the film comes from the cumulative feelings built up throughout each scene.

However, the ethereal nature of the film makes other aspects seem like they haven’t been delved into enough. It seems Charley has some interest in horses, enough that he volunteers to take care of some in the first place, though this fairly skeletal character hasn’t got the most clear or rounded of aspirations, which makes his more important decisions seem rather out of the blue.

This Charley character is a little bit of a blank slate for the conveyor-belt assembly of other characters to work off, but this ensemble do well in establishing the sort of people he stumbles upon throughout his journey. Despite lacking some needed clarification in character and motivation, Lean on Pete still finds its footing as it goes, unravelling itself as a rather stunning indie film that sets out to get a strong reaction from its viewers and succeeds.


Lean on Pete plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, February 19 to Sunday, February 25, 8pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, February 27 to Thursday, March 1 & Saturday, March 3 to Sunday, March 4, 8pm.

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