Lean on Pete: Riding Low in the Saddle 

Revealing the contradictions of the Northwest: harsh, uncompromising and quite beautiful.

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A24

Leave it to filmmaker Andrew Haigh, born in the northern English town of Harrogate, to explore the harsh realities of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Haigh's new film, Lean on Pete, is the coming-of-age wonderment of a teenage boy and a broken-down race horse traveling from from Portland, Oregon, across the Idaho desert. Instead of simply showcasing rolling countryside or gorgeous sunrises, Haigh focuses his lens on the contradictions of the rural nature of the Pacific Northwest--where extreme poverty is often framed by extreme beauty.

Take 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) for example, who often doesn't know where his next meal will come from. Charley gravitates to a rundown racetrack outside of Portland where he takes to a chestnut-colored colt named Lean on Pete, that has seen much better days. Pete's owner is bad-tempered Del (Steve Buscemi), a trainer of low-level quarter horses—sprinters that race a quarter-mile or less. Charley also befriends a matter-of-fact jockey, Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), who always seems to be on the edge of giving up the sport.

"There are only so many times you can fall of a horse and get up," says Bonnie, who grows fond of Charley but warns of his caring too much for Pete. "You can't get attached to a horse," she tells him. "Horses aren't pets."

But Charley's heart is there for the taking and Pete takes it in full stride.

Del hauls Pete from race track to race track across the northwest, many of them makeshift tracks at county fairs. These are not the family friendly race tracks that other Hollywood movies have been so fond of (The Black Stallion, Dreamer). Instead, they're very sketchy places where animal abuse is not uncommon and often overlooked.

Ultimately, Charley kidnaps (horsenaps?) Pete, driving the horse across the rural back roads of eastern Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. What follows isn't a charming road trip film but a harsh, desperate flight.

Plummer, a teenage superstar-in-the-making, gives a first-class portrayal of Charley. His breakout role came in All the Money in the World (2017), where he played the kidnapped John Paul Getty III.

Lean on Pete director Andrew Haigh began his career as an assistant editor on Gladiator and Black Hawk Dawn and graduated to screenwriter of HBO's Looking and director of one of the best films of 2015, the Academy Award-nominated 45 Years.

It has been a full seven months since I first saw Lean on Pete at the Toronto International Film Festival, and when it didn't find a distributor right away, I was a bit crestfallen that it wouldn't be eligible for immediate Oscar consideration. But now that the film is finally getting a wide release, opening in Boise on Friday, April 27, at The Flicks, here's hoping that Haigh makes the shortlist for a Best Director nomination. Taking a look at the Rotten Tomatoes website, where the film is holding an approval rating of 90 percent, I see that I'm not alone.

Now Playing

Lean on Pete is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Lean on Pete
Rated R · 122 minutes · 2018
Official Site: a24films.com/films/lean-on-pete
Director: Andrew Haigh
Producer: Darren Demetre, Lizzie Francke, Vincent Gadelle, Sam Lavender and Tristan Goligher
Cast: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Justin Rain, Lewis Pullman, Bob Olin, Teyah Hartley, Kurt Conroyd, Alison Elliott, Rachael Fosket, Jason Rouse, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, Amy Seimetz, Thomas Mann, Frank Gallegos and Julia Prud'homme
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