Review: 'Lean On Pete' Starring Charlie Plummer, Chloe Sevigny, And Steve Buscemi

I’m not sure if you’ve seen the trailer for Lean on Pete, but it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s a very earnest series of shots displaying the unlikely love between a boy and his horse.  It’s nothing but clichés and awards laurels praising it to be very important, and I just can’t. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty low heading into this film, and I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Lean on Pete is actually a pretty good movie.

Charlie Plummer stars as the aforementioned troubled young boy living a rough life with his neglectful father, who just isn’t capable of being there for his son. The only comfort he finds is in his job with Del (Steve Buscemi) taking care of race horses, particularly the titular horse Pete.

Luckily, the movie isn’t as schmaltzy as it sounds. The writing and performances are both fantastic and elevate what could have been a pretty corny boy-and-his-horse movie. Buscemi is as charismatic as ever, and Plummer just knocks it out of the park. He showed a lot of promise in last year’s All the Money in the World, but really gets a chance to shine in this one. His All the Money performance was far more based in realistic suffering, whereas in this film he gets to show a lot more depth. He plays a young man who doesn’t fit into society the way he feels he should, and is too proud to accept the help he’s offered. It’s a compelling character study that Plummer handles brilliantly.

What’s odd about Lean on Pete, and makes it stand out from other sad animal movies, is its plot structure. We follow the story of the boy, the horse, and Del for a little over an hour, before transitioning to what almost feels like an entirely new plot for the remainder of its over-two-hours-long runtime.

It’s going to sound a little weird, but the only thing I can think of to compare this plot shift to is Jaws. You know how the first half of that movie takes place on land, focusing on the town’s reaction to the shark, and then the second half is just as long and takes place on the boat, with them fighting off the shark? That’s what Lean on Pete feels like. It feels like a strong two act film, with each act being close to feature length. It’s as if this movie contains its own sequel, and in doing so, loses some of the momentum they built in the first half, as we watch the boy travel the country in a series of vignettes of different abusive situations. Perhaps it would have been best to release it in two parts, or only having the first part adapted like Call Me by Your Name. Regardless, there’s a weird, prolonged tonal shift that happens and I’m still not quite sure why.

Ultimately, however, this is a very solid movie that far exceeded my expectations. When it’s about a boy and a horse, it’s compelling. When it’s about being a homeless youth in America, it’s compelling. Lean on Pete is a pretty solidly crafted movie, even if it is too long for its own good.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5