Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Movie Review: "Lean on Pete" (2018)

Director: Andrew Haigh
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute

A teenager named Charley gets a job working for a racehorse owner. After a tragedy happens,  Charley learns that his boss is going to sell his favorite horse, Lean on Pete, to a butcher in Mexico, so he decides to steal the horse and head to Wyoming to find his aunt.
Charley with dad. (Image Source)
Just remember kids, when an authority figure tells you to "wait right here" so they can get you some help, your best course of action is always to run away when their back is turned. "Lean on Pete" is written and directed by Andrew Haigh, who is best known for directing the film "45 Years." It is based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. It stars Charlie Plummer as Charley, a fifteen-year-old boy who lives with his single father (Travis Fimmel), who is Charley's good buddy but is not much of a father figure. They move around a lot and have most recently settled down in Portland, Oregon out of the shadow of the city. With little money coming in, Charley begins working for a racehorse owner named Del (Steve Buscemi). While working there, Charley becomes very attached to an aging quarter-horse named Lean on Pete. In a bad place after a tragedy occurs, Charley learns that Del plans to sell Lean on Pete to a butcher in Mexico. Doing the only possible thing there is left to do, Charley decides to steal the horse and head for Wyoming to find his estranged aunt, who had a falling out with his father many years ago.
Charley with Pete. (Image Source)
This is the second film we have seen by Andrew Haigh. Like most independent directors, he seems to specialize in slowly paced human stories. When a character needs to take a long walk from one place to another, most directors will truncate these scenes since we know what's going to happen. Not Andrew Haigh, he shows us the whole damn journey with no cutaways. "Lean on Pete" is the definition of the saying "it's not the destination, it's the journey." Who needs dialogue when we can have silent moments of introspection set against a panoramic and vast prairie landscape that people will mistake for good cinematography? Haigh and cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck do apply an interesting fly-on-the-wall observational style as some shots are partially or completely obstructed by doorways or large trucks. Sometimes this technique is cool looking because it's not something we see too often in cinema. Other times, this technique can feel coldly observational and almost clinical at times, detached from the characters as if the lens of the camera were being used to study them like scientists rather than experiencing their journey.
Charley with Pete. (Image Source)
As for the story itself, it is a simple character sketch about a teenage boy who goes through some of life's most difficult obstacles. It shows how he deals with and attempts to come through his terrible situation. You could call it coming-of-age, but we didn't see much of a character arc in Charley. He goes through several trials and tribulations, though these situations feel like they are just the story of his whole life and not a character arc. He is a good and decent person from the beginning of the film to the end of it, though he has had to do some not-so-good-and-often-illegal things to make it through the days in an attempt to get to his aunt. Luckily, Charlie Plummer gives a wonderful dramatic performance, so it's not a total loss.
Charley with Bonnie. (Image Source)
"Lean on Pete" is almost a tale of two films. It became less and less interesting as it moved along its runtime, and it even got tedious and laborious towards the end of it. Del and Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), the most intriguing characters, both vanished by the middle of the film, leaving us with only Charley, Pete, and the passing acres of rural Oregon to fill the time. Towards the end of the film, we found ourselves fidgeting in our seats as it couldn't keep our interest. For a movie with such high critical praise, we once again found ourselves disappointed with this offering. We had more of an emotional reaction from both "Homeward Bound" movies.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 4.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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