(Release Info London schedule; April 28th, 2018, Curzon Soho)
"Lean On Pete"
In 'Lean On Pete', Vlautin’s characters are distinctly non-judgmental whether the young protagonist Charley ( Charlie Plummer), supporting characters like Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), Bonnie (Chloé Sevigny), and Silver (Steve Zahn), the drifter Charley meets in Laramie, Wyoming during his travels. The novel has a humane approach to characters and their struggles. The novel does not vilify any of the characters, even when they act in less than admirable ways. These are people struggling to keep their head above water, and that has a profound impact on how they act. In many ways the novel is about the need for kindness and compassion to those that are in need. This is a deeply personal story about one boy searching for a home and a family, but it also has an epic scale with political importance. Charley is at the center of the story, but it’s also about how we’ve come to abandon some of the most vulnerable people in Western society. The protagonist embodies this; his journey to survive and find a home is something we're struggling with on a large scale right now.
Del is a cantankerous 'Quarter Horse' racer who gives Charley a summer job caring for 'Lean On Pete'. Del’s a guy who grew up around the racetrack, following in his father’s footsteps most likely, and it’s kind of all he knows, He laments the glory days, but, since he’s getting older, he’s catching the tail end of all that, and he struggles. He’s got a good heart, but he’s not a sentimental guy. He’s had a hard life and that informs everything he does. Del isn't the bad guy because he’s someone who's trying to get by. Charley’s hard-living, philandering father Ray (Travis Fimmel) and Silver are two very similar characters at each end of the story. Both are big kids who can’t grow up and who can’t protect those they really meant to look after. Both characters are instinctually good people that make bad decisions, and Travis and Steve nailed that complexity.
Bonnie is a kindly but hard-living jockey, who warms to the film’s teenage protagonist as he yearns for family and community. She's close confidant of Del Montgomery who becomes a maternal figure to Charley after they meet at 'Portland Meadows'. Bonnie is salt of the earth, grounded, and material. Although you’d expect the only major female in the movie to be more nurturing, she’s more like, whatever, kid; I’ll buy you a soda. She doesn’t treat Charley like a little boy, which makes for a nice relationship. She’s a real horse person, coming from a world she’s known all her life. She’s been thrown from horses a few times but still gets back up and goes for it again and again, because otherwise she’d be waitressing. She loves the excitement of the track and has a long history Del Montgomery. They've a kind of camaraderie and ease, working together when it’s convenient.
Charley is constantly in search of love, from his father, from Del and Bonnie, eventually from his aunt. When Pete gives him that kind of love, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world to him. You've to learn a lot of sensitivity when you’re around them because every environment they go into is diferent to them. You learn where to nuzzle them or stroke them to make them feel more comfortable. Charley's struggle is less a coming-of-age identity quest than something more fundamental; what drives him is his desperate need to find that feeling of home; somewhere he can feel safe and secure. "Lean On Pete" continues with it's non-human cast members, including twenty 'Toroughbreds' for 'The Portland Meadows' racing scenes and six performing” horses, including 'Starsky', who makes his feature film debut as 'Lean On Pete'. Horses are smart and can sense whether or not you’re comfortable with them. One is a performance entailing interaction with the human actors; the emotional part of the story that needs to be told; and the other requires physical actions, like horse races or the accident that arrives at the story’s midpoint.
It isn't simply "Lean On Pete’s" distinct world of small-time horse racers and gamblers that makes the novel feel cinematic; even more palpable and immediate it's the sense of yearning and loneliness, dovetailing with the tenor and themes of Haigh's work. In "Weekend", two strangers come together for a 48-hour period after meeting in a night club, finding unexpected intimacy and friendship in their brief encounter; in "45 Years", a married couple grapples with their history together over the course of several days leading up to an anniversary celebration of their nearly five-decade union; in the 'HBO' series 'Looking', and group of close-knit San Franciscans come together and fall apart as they navigate personal and professional challenges in a gentrifying metropolis. Haigh captures a simplicity to "Lean On Pete".
The film captures the lush green tones of 'The Pacifc Northwest' and the parched, sun-drenched, wide-open spaces of the high desert terrain that marks Charley’s later journey toward Laramie, Wyoming and Denver, Colorado. There's a sense of epic desolation in America’s remote corners. Haigh pushes the emotional efect of the film’s visuals, striving to elicit to maximum feeling through the images of William Eggleston, Steven Shore, and Joel Sternfeld. The center-framed Charley as much as possible and shot in the 1:85 aspect ratio instead of the more traditional 2:35 in order to emphasize height above, rather than width on either side, resulting in screen characters that become almost dwarfed by the vast landscape surrounding them. The film possess a gentle beauty and a tender realism.
It’s a staggeringly beautiful country and it takes years to come to grips with it as a nation. But it has an identity and drive that’s radically diferent from Europe. One of the most striking aspects in this regard is the country’s rich cultural and geographic diversity. The personality of Utah is very diferent from Colorado. Portland itself feels miles away, socially and politically, from 'Eastern Oregon'. It's sometimes shocking to see the intense patriotism some Americans have for their country, even when faced with intense economic difculties. People still seem to believe in 'The American Dream', even as it continues to fail so many. "Lean On Pete" adopts a wistful, nostalgic and peripatetic approach to it's story of friendship and survival on the road. In the simplest terms, it’s a love story about a boy and his horse trying to hold on in an unforgiving but resilient America. The story is contemporary, but it’s more connected to the classic American movies of the 1970s, like 'Midnight Cowboy'. We don’t see these types of human dramas much anymore.