Reading the synopsis of Lean On Pete on Flixster, one would think this is a Disney-like feel-good movie where Charley saves a horse by crossing untamed, rugged Western country in search of a long-lost relative. And who wouldn’t want to take Mrs. TMJ to Mariemont on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to see such an uplifting story? Once again, I feel deceived. This is more of a feel-bad movie as one bad thing after another happens to poor Charley. The title is the name of the horse, i.e., Lean On Pete. Does Lean On Pete save Charley from cougars, bears, snakes, etc. Nope. I am not sure who this movie was made for. One sees horses and thinks kids. Nope, too many F-bombs. Perhaps horse race lovers? Not enough racing. Maybe lovers of the wild West. Nah, too much of the underbelly of the West we would prefer to ignore.
Sixteen year old Charley was abandoned by his mother and raised by a neglectful father in Oregon. He remembers his aunt but has not heard from her in years. Left alone, he stumbles into a job caring for quarter horses owned by a shady Del Montgomery. Bonnie, Del’s jockey, tells Charley not to get attached to the horses, they are not pets. After Lean On Pete finishes last in a race, he is set for the Mexican slaughterhouse. Charley decides to rescue the horse and find his aunt, somewhere in Wyoming.
Critics like fine acting and there is no shortage in this movie. Charlie Plummer (All The Money In The World) is Charley and shines in every scene. I could watch Steve Buscemi all day; here, he is Del Montgomery. Bonnie is played by Chloe Sevigny, a female jockey in a man’s world knowing she is dancing with the devil. Travis Fimmel (Ragnar in History Channel’s Vikings) is Charley’s father but not given nearly enough to do here. Likewise, for Steve Zahn, a character Charley meets on his way to Wyoming.
This is not a movie I could recommend someone to spend their money. It is that depressing. One scene alone, which I will not reveal, is enough to trouble your sleep. Del Montgomery introduces Charley to a world where anything is done to win a race, the welfare of the horse be damned. Viewing no food in the fridge, animal abuse, and homelessness, it is a surprise that the audience rating is 86%. And, at times. the movie drags. It is a testament to the actors that this movie is this well received because there is no fun to be had here. On the other hand, if you like drama that shows life as it exists more often than we would like to admit, feel free to ride this horse.