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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Fifteen-year-old Charley lives with his father Ray from pay cheque to irresponsibly budgeted pay cheque. Charley gets a summer job as a stable hand for horse trainer Del where he takes care of ageing racehorse “Lean on Pete”. When Ray’s philandering results in a fatal altercation, Charley seems bound for life in systemic foster care. Hiding from authorities in the stables, Charley learns that Del means to put Pete down and charts a desperate cross-country escape to freedom searching for his Aunt Margie.
The film beautifully observes Charley’s life unfolding. Flowing between steady detachment; reporting on each step of the young man’s morning running circuits, to the somewhat tragic lack of intimacy for every part of his life – except for his moments with Pete. Cluttered suburban streets and the unglamorous, manure-lined stables feel like prisons to boy and beast alike when contrasted by seeing this unique contemplative young man riding his horse freely through the wild vistas.
Plummer’s performance is a revelation. He conveys such moral clarity, quite often in silent moments alongside his silent equine co-star; it is quite an achievement. Haigh’s direction fashions a delicate and boundlessly hopeful Charley. Despite the incomprehension of the gravity of the situation, he chooses to act with care for Pete, even if that means risking his well-being.
Lean on Petedraws you in and denies you the chance to reach out for a desperate protective embrace of Charley. Haigh’s unforgettable adaptation makes you bear witness to this fragile flame nursed through the unforgiving world.