It wasn’t about the relationship with the horse. It was never about that. Charley needed somebody, anybody. It’s lonely, his life. He has his dad. He never knew his mom. He has an aunt, too, but he hasn’t seen her in years after Charley’s father, Ray, and her had a falling out. He had friends, but they were back in Spokane, Washington. At fifteen, he was anxious to begin school that fall, to play football and meet new friends in Portland where he and his father just moved. A racetrack appeared one morning as Charley ran, which soon became a place of intrigue, excitedly telling his father about his discovery over breakfast with Ray and Ray’s one-night stand.
Lean on Pete will make you weep. It’s a fragile story about a teenager named Charley, played by the sensational Charlie Plummer, who takes a job in the backstretch of a broken down race track. He helps Del, played by Steve Buscemi, fix a flat. The pair then travels hours away for a race with Del’s quarter horses. Quarter horses excel at short distances; one of the horses in the trailer, a five-year-old named Lean on Pete, has had a moderate amount of success during his career. There’s a connection, between Charley and the horse, almost immediately as Del provides advice for Charley on how to keep his arm attached to the sometimes uncontrollable animal, and to never let go of the rope.
Del seems miserable, consuming Washington’s finest beer, Rainier, throughout the film. The quick-tempered owner isn’t afraid to let his horses hear it, selling one to Mexico to be slaughtered. Charley almost realizes immediately what type of work he has gotten himself into. The amount of money Del pays Charley each day varies. Charley, however, uses the money for food for him and his dad until one day when his father is attacked by that one-night stand’s husband, ultimately becoming a fatality while Charley’s on the road with Del.
Writing reviews isn’t something I do often. I don’t want to just go over the plot from beginning to end, because that’s boring and tedious as hell. I watched this movie on Amazon Prime Wednesday night, and I just needed to write about it. It hit me in a way I didn’t expect. Bonnie, one of Del’s jockeys, warns Charley not to become too attached to the horses. They aren’t pets, Bonnie said. Charley cannot help it, though. It’s after a race, which Lean on Pete finishes last, that Del tells Charley he’s selling the beloved horse. Charley decides to steal Lean on Pete and Del’s truck in the process.
Director Andrew Haigh does a masterful job of telling a story about people trying to get by in unpleasant situations in the Pacific Northwest. There are soldiers coming back from war, there are homeless people searching for work and there’s a drunken grandfather that treats his granddaughter like shit. The English creative, known for 45 Years and the HBO Series Looking, tells stories about everyday life. Initially a book by the same name from Willy Vlautin, Lean on Pete is about Charley’s search to find any meaning. Haigh doesn’t see it as a coming of age movie, because coming of age stories deals with teenagers finding themselves. Charley just wants somebody to care for him, some place to call home.
As Charley travels with Lean on Pete, he talks to him in such a mundane way. The goal is to reach Wyoming to be reunited with his aunt Margy. He talks about his mother, and how when he was real little she just dropped him off at Ray’s, never to be heard from again. Charley found out more about her as he grew older. She’d rather party than take care of him. Charley idolized his father, having a truly beautiful relationship despite his father’s inability to earn enough money to properly raise him. Charley doesn’t know what to do other than try to find Margy, even though he doesn’t know where she exactly lives, or her phone number. He just knows she’s in Wyoming, and at one point worked at a bar. He’s ashamed to contact any of his friends from Spokane, because then they’d know the truth about his situation, and how he was living.
The story was never about the horse. Lean on Pete plays a vital role, of course. He’s there for Charley at the roughest of times. Charley loves that horse. But, as Charley finds Margy, he just wants a place to call home.