First Poster for A24's Drama 'Lean On Pete' - Starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny

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I saw this lovely movie at TIFF. 

Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete”is this sprawling, unsentimental coming-of-age drama that is actually quite devious in its opening moments. You expect a by-the-books slice of Americana as Charley (Charlie Plummer) lives in the middle of nowhere with his sadsack, boozing and womanizing dad Ray (Travis Fimmel) in a shotgun shack. Their life is a bunch of nothings, daily, mundane routines that have become cliches in American independent cinemas. Then, a twist and thenn another and then another.  Whenever you think you know where the film is going, Haigh ("Weekend," "45 Years") pulls the rug under you.

Adapted from the Willy Vlautin novel of the same name, the shift in Charley's life comes when he catches the attention of horse rainer Del Montgomery (an excellent Steve Buscemi), who offers to pay him for some help at local races. Is Del trustworthy? We can't really tell, there's humanism, he's taken the kid under his wings, but his trade is still to make money. He makes it through his minor-league jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), who warns Charley not to grow close to any of the horses, Del sells them to Mexican slaughterhouse when they're no good for races. Charley makes the mistake of taking in Lean on Pete, a five-year-old horse that keeps winning races. This leads to a downfall of epic proportions for our young protagonist, most of which I won't reveal here because the beauty of this film resides in going through the meandering, episodic nature and finding poignancy, depth if you will. 

Charley's episodic adventure is filled with no music, still camera shots, and an abundance of dread.Every decision the boy seems to be making is cringe-inducing bad, he catches no break either, as nights turn into days his survival starts to become questionable.The film's power comes in the accumulation of the episodes Charley has to endure in this Steinbeck-esque story, the overall impact is felt the more the story goes along and Haigh knows that, taking his time for his narrative to slowly seep into you like a punch to the gut.

It works because of Haigh's risks and Plummer's every so magnetic screen presence which feels as authentic as the Montana mountains every so beautifully shot by cinematographer Magnus Joenk. An actor as young as Plummer must be willing to go along with the risk-taking the part entails, there is no self-pity to this performance and the 18-year-old gives us a restrained and harrowing performance. Yes, harrowing, just like the film itself which is quite deceiving in the way it sets up its narrative and then goes through the most brooding aspects of the American dream. 

“Lean on Pete” doesn't aspire to be the next great American epic, no this is a small gem that in focusing such an abundance of territory in its 120 minute running time does end up making it into a Steinbeck-esque epic of the downtrodden, the folks American forgot.

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