Lean on Pete directed by Andrew Haigh [8/10]

How wonderful the world of movies! Released last year, Lean on Pete only made it to Australian cinemas now. I’ve been hanging out for it. I don’t know author Willy Vlautin well, having only read one of his novels (and not Lean on Pete), nor was I a rabid fan of his prolific band, Richmond Fontaine, but his stature has grown and this American adaptation to the screen had a solid reputation. The wait has been more than worthwhile: this is a pitch-perfect low-key stunner. Charlie Plummer transcends the role of Charley Thompson, a slender, likeable fifteen-year-old living with his struggling dad in Portland, Oregon. Charley picks up a stable roustabout job working for an irascible trainer (a great role for Steve Buscemi) and falls under the spell of Lean on Pete, a fifteen-year-old quarterhorse racer in decline. Nothing is over dramatized and it takes the viewer some minutes to appreciate how dire young Charley’s situation is, and then, of course, the bottom falls out. Simple, raw scenes of the rural and city fringes of the United States, carefully centered around the plucky figure of Charley, are filmed with crystalline intensity. Vlautin is famed as a chronicler of the American down-and-out, and the relentless assault, in growing crescendos, on Charley’s humanity and pride are almost unbearable to watch. I found the final third a ratification of film’s grandeur and I’m sure you will too. Watch Lean on Pete, would you?

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