“Remember Charley, it’s not a pet. It’s a horse”
Though the quote I’ve used might reflect the nature of what this film entails, Lean On Pete is less of a story about a horse as much as Jaws was simply about a great big shark. Instead what the film smartly focuses on, is the people behind the scenes and which often makes Lean On Pete the melancholic watch from its depictions of humanity and poverty that arise from the story. By doing so, it also explores some very interesting aspects of the way we not only connect with animals but also with each other.
This was a theme that really stood out for me while watching the journey of a boy and his friendship with an aging racehorse. I don’t want to give anything else away other than what I’ve just said, but there are ideas about a simple-minded way of thinking and the differences in human nature, that become all thrown in together, amongst this basic styled backdrop. Which is why on the surface Lean On Pete can appear fairly straightforward and plain. In reality, the film is layered with some interesting aspects towards human life and even to an extent, the cracks of our society.
This is largely all thanks to the wonderful performance of its lead Charlie Plummer but also to his supporting cast with Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny. Though their roles were fairly brief in comparison, they were complimentary enough to not only move the story along but also be that essential juxtaposition in contrasting what emotions and motivations lie behind the protagonist’s own traits. This was also supported by the narrative decision to have him play a fifteen-year-old who engages with seasoned like veterans in the characters played by Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny. As it works well to set up the differences between the ways they view the world and to show the various backgrounds people can come from which culminate in making the product of who they are. I particularly enjoyed the burst of life Steve Buscemi’s character added to a film that is almost entirely a slow burn type of movie.
Unfortunately, the nature of the plot contributed to why I didn’t like the film more than I had wanted to. The pacing was just far too slow for the payouts that I was receiving, and I wished a lot of scenarios had happened quicker given that this film really makes you feel the runtime as it goes on. I get that this allows you to analyze some of the subtle contexts being shown, which could also be perceived as a clever reflection of how life is going for our protagonist, but this still didn’t make me enjoy watching it at this almost snail-like pace and my engagement factor fluctuated throughout the two-hour runtime. Nevertheless, I was still glad to watch it.
Lean On Pete might be too much of a slow burner, but its positives still outweigh its one major flaw. It’s also another fine example from a technical standpoint, with director Andrew Haigh allowing many shots to go uninterrupted which allowed the actors to pace their emotions as the scene goes on (an aspect I admire). Yes, it might not be as dazzling by choosing to not show a variety of camera angles per say, but I didn’t mind the minimalistic nature as it felt intentional and done with purpose. It’s a feature that I also admired along with the director’s other works in the films Weekend and 45 Years – both of which were also great, with Weekend being my favorite film from him so far.
In summary, I’d recommend watching Lean On Pete for those interested in a minimalistic shot film, that isn’t really seen amongst mainstream releases but still holds some equally, if not more, powerful messages. If you also get the chance, watch his other works as well because he’s definitely one of those directors to look out for in the future. See it.