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 a sprawling, unsentimental coming-of-age drama that is quite devious in its opening moments. You expect a cliched slice of Americana at the film's start. Charley (Charlie Plummer), living in the middle of nowhere with his sadsack, boozing and womanizing dad Ray (Travis Fimmel) in a shotgun shack, is the main protagonist. Then, a twist happens and then another and then another.  Whenever you think you know where the film is going, Haigh ("Weekend," "45 Years") pulls the rug from under you and slaps you sideways.
Adapted from the Willy Vlautin novel of the same name, the shift in Charley's life comes when he catches the attention of horse trainer 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, but there's humanism there, he's taken the kid under his wings. However, Dale's tradeoff is still to make money. He makes it through his minor-league jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), who warns Charley not to grow too close to any of the horses. Why? Del tends to sell them to Mexican slaughterhouses when they slow down and are no good for races anymore. Enter Lean on Pete, a stalwart at the aces, but Charley makes the mistake of taking in this five-year-old horse as his own. This leads to a downfall of epic proportions for our young protagonist, most of which I won't reveal here because the beauty of Haigh's film resides in going through the meandering, episodic nature and finding poignancy, depth if you will, in its beautifully constructed cracks.

Charley's episodic adventure has no soundtrack and is only enhanced by Haigh's still camera shots. It becomes painfully heartbreaking to watch, as every decision our main protagonist seems to be making is cringe-inducingly bad, no break is caught, and as nights turn into days, his survival starts to become questioned.

The film's power comes in the accumulation of the episodes Charley has to endure, some of which are very Steinbeck-esque. It works because of Haigh's risks and Plummer's every so magnetic screen presence which feels as authentic as the mountainous Montana alps so beautifully captured here 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 rendition. 

“Lean on Pete” doesn't aspire to be the next great American epic, but, then again, neither did "The Grapes of Wrath." No, this is a small gem that in focusing such an abundance of territory in its 120-minute running time does end up honoring the downtrodden of this country, the folks that American forgot many years ago.