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Charlie Plummer

“LEAN ON PETE” My rating: B+

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Lean on Pete” will leave audiences emotionally wrecked.

This despite the miscasting of a couple of key roles.

At first glance the latest from Brit writer/director Andrew Haig (“45 Years,” “Weekend”)  may look like a-boy-and-his-horse story.  But no.  The equine Pete of the title is less a character than a symbol of everything that the movie’s young human protagonist lacks.

When we meet Charley (Charlie Plummer, last seen as John Paul Getty II in “All the Money in the World”) he’s living in borderline poverty with his loving but generally hapless father Ray (Travis Fimmel). Early on they discuss Ray’s latest squeeze over a breakfast of Fruit Loops (which are kept in the fridge to frustrate the roaches).

Charley: “I like her better than Marlene.”

Ray: “Marlene was smart for a stripper.”

Virtually by accident Charley falls in with Del (Steve Buscemi), who might best be described as a used car salesman of the horse set.  Del has a small stable of nags he runs at nickel-and-dime tracks around the Pacific Northwest. He puts Charley to work grooming the exercising the animals, and the kid soon picks up that Del isn’t above scamming or cheating to make a buck, leading occasionally to quick dead-of-night getaways.

Still, the kid loves working with the  horses, especially the aging Lean On Pete, who becomes  his personal favorite.

“You can’t think of them as pets,” warns Bonnie (Chloe Savigny), the young woman who is Del’s in-house jockey. “They’re here to race and nothing else.”

Indeed, Del is no sentimentalist when it comes time to cull the herd.  Thus when Charley, already reeling from a tragedy at home, learns that Lean on Pete is “going to Mexico” — Delspeak for being sold to the glue factory — the kid puts the horse in a trailer, revs up Del’s junker pickup truck, and heads out for parts unknown. (more…)

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