Saturday, 21 July 2018

Lean On Pete: NZIFF Review

Lean On Pete: NZIFF Review

An entirely heart-breaking film that keeps its feet firmly on the ground, 45 Years director Andrew Haigh's Lean On Pete will destroy you if you have any sense of empathy.

Newcomer Charlie Plummer delivers a delicate and fragile turn as Charley, a kid who's been around the traps thanks to a dad who keeps moving about and thanks to a mom who abandoned them when he was younger.

Settling in Portland in the latest of their travels, Charley's drawn to a local race track, where he strikes up a working relationship / surrogate father relationship with Steve Buscemi's been-round-the-tracks Del and one of Del's horses, Lean On Pete.
Lean On Pete: NZIFF Review

Intuitively bonding with Pete as he's the outsider, the sensitive Charley grows closer to the horse, despite Del's insistence he's not a pet, and begins to realise the horse is being over-worked.

With things on the home front facing crisis point and with Lean On Pete's future uncertain, Charley makes a fateful decision, feeling cornered and with only one place to go, setting in motion a chain of events.

Lean On Pete reeks of empathy and delicacy; with a turn from Plummer that's nothing short of sensationally sensitive, Charley is a kid who's fallen and is falling through the cracks. Wisely, Haigh underplays his hand, with the social commentary coming through later on in the piece, but early on, the film shows disparate families growing and societies forced to make decisions out of economic necessity.

But Lean On Pete's strength lies in the way the message is handled, rather than its delivery; it's a tale of outsiders in society all throughout, anchored by a vulnerable lead who heads off on the old American road trip for soul-destroying reasons more than anything else. It's in the subtleties it finds its power, and it's in its delivery of them that Lean On Pete soars.

Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny and Travis Fimmel make for good bedfellows in this, each an American hit by the reality of life, but it's Plummer who's searing and sensational throughout. As Charley, he has to do a great deal of the lifting, but every chance he gets Plummer steals it (literally in parts), ensuring that his character is wracked with guilt and doubt throughout but is never anything other than relatable.

There may be a social commentary on current America here, but Haigh doesn't dwell on it, simply choosing to depict the reality and blessing the film with some stunning vistas and some unfussy and uncomplicated horse racing scenes.

Make no mistake, Lean On Pete will break your heart - it will have you reaching for the closeness of a family unit, and the uncomplicated love; but it will do a little more than that too - having you yearn for happiness for all, while simultaneously embracing the sadness of what life throws your way.

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