Released: 4th May 2018
Directed By: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
Whether it be the immediacy of sexual attraction and unearthing your identity in ‘Weekend’. Or the devastating secrets that tarnished the lifelong bond of a committed couple in ’45 Years’.
Andrew Haigh’s muted but mesmeric visual style has had an uncanny ability to speak volumes for its ‘lost’ protagonists, in the wake of such uncertainty and tragedy. As an outsider, painting his own distinct cinematic canvas of the Pacific Northwest. This gorgeous adaptation of the Willy Vlautin novel, is a bracing character study in finding your footing in an uncompromising climate.
Beige in its colour scheme as he unpacks his trophies. The early sequences in which 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) inhabits, starkly juxtaposes the thought process of a teenager who is craving a brighter outlook, whilst never quite feeling like a top priority.
With his hair resembling a manga character, it’s fitting that his womanising father Ray (Travis Fimmel) embodies a cartoonish and immature persona, almost admitting defeat in his bid to offer stability for them in their new confines of Portland, Oregon.
Navigating through this dusty and delectable ‘home’ with barely a penny to his name, whose current purpose is to find his long-lost Aunt. Charley encounters disillusioned horse owner Del (Steve Buscemi) and veteran jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), offering a nurturing counterpoint to their no-nonsense way of working, striking up an endearing companionship with aging horse ‘Lean On Pete’ in the process.
An imminent victim of this cutthroat world with the horse about to be sent to a slaughterhouse. Charley refuses to greet his new ‘friend’ with the same neglect he’s previously endured, setting him on a treacherous path as he strives for a better future.
Not losing sight of what brought him to this particular racetrack. Director Haigh alongside cinematographer Magnus Jonck revels in capturing the subtle truth of these characters within their chosen American confines, sharply observing whilst broadening the scope in order to accentuate the themes of its delicate story, without manipulating the audience.
The deep sense of longing. The limited opportunities to thrive in a vast landscape. Enrapturing us through exquisite use of the dissolve and the long shot, as he punctuates the film with fleeting but lingering kindness offering glimpses of hope, to ease the heart-wrenching pain of its startling plot developments.
Boasting a flurry of begrudging cautionary figures who have been left weary by this world. We’re certainly no stranger to an angst-ridden, foul-mouthed Steve Buscemi, but he is engrossing in the role of Del, serving his own brand of tough love to Charley to eradicate the naivety of his youth. Whilst Chloe Sevigny’s Bonnie is a brilliant enforcer of the lack of emotional attachment on display, who is merely trying to survive by any means necessary.
But the frame is dominated by a remarkable Charlie Plummer. Tenderly talking to the horse within its tranquil scenery, injecting the film with a fairy tale quality as he fills in the gaps of his past. Regularly jogging throughout as he surveys an often desolate scene, only wanting to gallop through life at a greater speed. There is a searing honesty and perseverance that permeates throughout his outstanding performance, which leaves you completely transfixed.
‘Lean On Pete’ is quite simply, a sweeping beauty of a film. Don’t sleep on it.