Here is yet another beautiful film about a young man and horses in the American West.
In this case, the boy, Charley (Charlie Plummer), has come from Spokane following a happy freshman year in high school to live with his father in Portland.
Charley is 16, he says, or maybe 15. His mother abandoned the family when he was a child and his father is an immature lout who disappeared for several days when Charley was 12, which perhaps landed him in foster care in the intervening years. The one possession he seems to treasure is a picture of his Aunt Margy holding him when he was a very small boy.
Charley is a runner, and his Portland runs take him to the local horse racing track, the nearby stables and Del (Steve Buscemi), who owns a declining horse racing franchise and who gives Charlie a job helping out. Charlie takes a liking to Leon On Pete, one of Del’s quarter horses.
Even after a young life of many hardships, Charley is kind, resilient and hopeful. It seems possible that Del may become a sort of surrogate father and that taking care of Lean On Pete will add meaning to Charley’s life.
Then things go south in several ways. Charley and the horse light out for Wyoming, where Charley hopes to find his Aunt Margy.
From there the story devolves into one awful experience after another.
The movie is well made, and the actors are excellent. I don’t know if the script is too harsh or I am too soft, but I found it painful to watch.
Like last week’s Monday movie, “The Rider”, was made by a Chinese-born filmmaker. “Lean on Pete” was made by Andrew Haigh, who is British and whose previous work was set in the UK. It’s interesting that stories set in the little-settled and seldom seen rural American West are attracting directors from other continents.
(True, the “Hostiles” film earlier this year was a western story and made by Americans, but it was a historical piece set more than 130 years ago.)
The Charley character in this movie’s story has a background that is becoming common in the U.S. Two data points:
— Across the US, there is a growing strain on the foster care system, exacerbated by the opioid crisis.
— At least 10 percent of New York City students are homeless at some point in every school year, a number that has increased by 50 percent between 2011 and 2017.
In general, children raised under such harsh conditions have a much harder time in life. Not many of them are as resourceful as the young man in the movie.