Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is horrendous and is a ludicrously awful attempt to show a loveable relationship between a boy and a failing racehorse.
Fresh from its press screening at the London Film Festival, Haigh’s fourth feature film follows 15-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) as he embarks on a journey across America’s Northwest on a search for a new home. Charley lives alone with his working class womanising father, Ray (Travis Fimmel) following his Mother’s departure at a young age. Desperate for cash and another fresh start, they move to Portland, Oregon. Charley meets Dale (Steve Buscemi), an old-fashioned and washed-up horse trainer. He gives Charlie a part-time job helping with the horses, which is when he meets Pete, an underperforming racehorse who Charley takes a liking to.
This film is none of the above. To be brutally honest, the adapted screenplay from Haigh is an abomination. It is without a doubt one of the worst screenplays I have witnessed in a long while. I would say it is that of the standard of a school media student, but that would be an insult to those students. The film drags and drags, with no dramatic or fulfilling payoff that would enrich your experience. The second half of the film is essentially wide-shots of Charley walking with the horse, and a chaotic scramble to establish a selection of bitesize character defining moments. These prove to be unfulfilling, out of character, boring and bizarre.
However, the biggest problem with this film is the character of Charley Thompson. It’s established that our protagonist has no contact with his departed Mother, his favoured Aunt Marg and that his home life is rocky, to say the least. Then, he is left parentless when he witnesses an angry husband of one of his Dad’s partners kill him. We see no emotion from Charley, we see him stagger on by collecting what he can from his work with Dale. It’s nigh on impossible to connect with the character we see on screen, as it seems to barely impact him, why should it impact the audience? We see next to no character development throughout the film, and when there are those rare attempts, it’s simply hopeless shots in the dark that have not been set up and totally and bizarrely out of character.
We see no real emotional connection between the two, until 75 minutes into the film, when Charley makes his first active decision to do anything in the film. Charley finds out that Dale is to send Pete away for a pretty penny, resulting in his slaughter in Mexico. Charley steals the horse and Dale’s truck, and leaves for, well nowhere, he just takes him across the Northwest, hoping to find Aunt Marg somewhere along the way if he can. How did this 15-year-old learn to drive, is the first question that goes off in your head, there is no remote indication set up of Charley ever driving. Yet, this still isn’t one of the strangest and worst things in this film. I look the other way, as finally, Charley stops being passive and totally reactive throughout the film, and starts making something happen. He quickly runs out of money, and steals food from a diner on the highway and manages to get away scot-free. We anticipate this is the formation of some eventual character development, and finally, the plot going somewhere.
Sadly, this is not the case. It’s pretty much Charley dragging the horse throughout the desert, meeting uninteresting and insignificant characters along the way. The film largely focuses on Charley’s relationship with the horse and tries to market itself as a ‘Marley and Me’ style, an endearing relationship resulting in emotional outpouring at the animal’s death. Pete becomes free of his rope and escapes from Charley as quickly as possible, galloping into a road where he is struck down by a driver. The police arrive and state that they’ll be taking Charley somewhere safe, when he bizarrely decides to run away, with no attempt by the police to go after him now. We then see him stop his plan to find Aunt Marg, become homeless and start new jobs. The relationship formed between Charley and the horse that we suffered through for 90 minutes has no impact on the character following his death. He moves on again and eventually tracks down his Aunt Marg who he so greatly loves, to no emotional reaction in the slightest when he finally finds her.
This insufferable film lasts for 120 minutes, with the story content of less than half. I can genuinely never recall viewing a film where I’ve had my head in my hands like this. It will leave you viewing the exit door as a gate to heaven, and I’d rather lean off a cliff than Lean on Pete again.
Lean On Pete will be released in cinemas in February 2018.