Film Review: Lean on Pete (UK, 2018) sees a troubled teen fall off his horse & get back up again

Lean on Pete is about a poor boy in more ways than one. This troubled teen was abandoned by his Mum and lives with his selfish father in poverty. His saving grace comes in the shape of an aging racehorse named Lean on Pete. This slow-burning drama sees this teen fall off his horse, only to get back up again, before some other things in life drag him back down.

This film is adapted from a novel by Willy Vlautin, with Andrew Haigh (45 Years) at the helm of this muted drama. For better or worse, this is a one horse tale. Some audience members may enjoy the rich and singular focus of this story, while others may find it underwhelming and left wanting more.

Relative newcomer, Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World) gives a very strong performance as the bright, 18-year-old Charley. He is an athletic kid forced to change town and schools. His father (Travis Fimmel) is preoccupied with women and partying, leaving Charley alone and with lots of free time. He decides to take on some work at the local stables alongside bad-tempered racehorse owner, Del (Steve Buscemi).

An experienced jockey (Chloë Sevigny) advises Charley not to get too attached to Lean on Pete. The horse is an aging nag on the verge of retirement and being sent to the local slaughterhouse. The bond between the boy and the horse however, proves too strong. Charley and Pete set out on a cross-country road trip to find Charley’s long lost aunt.

Lean on Pete is a gritty and episodic coming-of-age story. It doesn’t try to sugar-coat things. Rather, it delivers an authentic-feeling tale where there are lots of tragedies and hard knocks to negotiate. This includes exploring the ugly side of the racing business and characters that have less than savoury traits.

Lean on Pete is a good horse, and is a film about an aging animal and a self-sufficient youngster who grows up. It is a slow and sobering look at the harsh reality of some difficult situations. Some may find the proceedings a little too quiet and singular in focus, but for others this could be a black beauty.


Lean on Pete is in cinemas Thursday 29th November