“Lean on Pete”: Not Just a Boy and His Horse

Not everyone likes a movie that sneaks up on them, so be advised that Lean on Pete is the ugly-cry event of the spring. But it more than earns its emotional ravages. Jeffrey Bloomer, Slate

Just a-boy-and-his-horse story? Excerpts from reviews of Lean on Pete suggest it’s much more than that and possibly not what you’d expect from seeing the trailer:

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter:

What reads on the surface like an archetypal tale of a boy and his horse becomes an affecting snapshot of the contemporary American underclass in Andrew Haigh’s lovely, slow-burning drama Lean on Pete. Poverty and broken families are less a subject of this delicate film than an integral part of its texture. Adapted from the novel by writer-musician Willy Vlautin, this is a compassionately observed story told with unimpeachable naturalism and without a grain of sentimentality, propelled by a remarkable performance from Charlie Plummer that’s both internalized and emotionally raw…

…(H)is childhood memory of an estranged aunt [is] the closest thing to a loving maternal figure he has ever known. But even more central to the story is Charley’s bond with the aging quarter horse whose name gives the film its title, a gentle nag that Charley is determined to save from the slaughterhouse once it has been run into the ground by its shady owner [Del, played by Steve Buscemi].

J. R. Jones, Chicago Reader:

Certainly the boy has been treated like a horse for most of his life, led around by the nose from one place to the next. Charley’s mother abandoned him when he was a child, and his good-timey father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), drags Charley from town to town as he searches for unskilled work…

Trust figures heavily in Lean on Pete, because Charley and Pete are both so defenseless against the world. Every horseman knows that, to win a horse’s cooperation, you need to convince it that you’re looking out for its safety, and Charley understands this thoroughly: from the moment he meets Pete, he’s all about the horse. The longer he works at the racetrack, though, the more he begins to understand that the horses’ well-being is secondary.

Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

Disaster violently upends and gives shape to the loose, episodic story when an angry stranger breaks down Ray and Charley’s front door, sending the father to the hospital and the son reeling. With no one else he can call, Charley runs off to look for a missing aunt, stealing both Del’s truck and Pete. They share starry nights — Charley talks to Pete as if confiding in a friend — but their difficult road soon turns treacherous. There are ominous men, kind women, persistent hunger, a desert trek, a breakdown and a grisly accident. Before long, this tough-minded if generous-hearted movie becomes nearly unbearable as its overarching ethic of honesty edges too close to sadism.

Ty Burr, Boston Globe:

What sustains the movie — and Charley, and the audience — is its faith in the essential innocence of people, even as Haigh looks coolly at the damage they’ve suffered and the damage they inflict…

‘Lean on Pete’ is a survivor’s movie, and it’s made bearable by the gentle solemnity of Plummer’s performance and by the respect Haigh extends to every character — no matter their flaws — and to a society that fails its most vulnerable members with the best of intentions.

Leah Greenblatt, ew.com:

…may feel like a bait and switch to viewers who just came for some nice boy-and-his-horse uplift, but Pete is no kind of fairytale; instead, it’s something far sadder and better and more real.

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