“Lean On Pete” is the story of 15-year-old Charley, played by Charlie Plummer, fresh off his performance as the kidnapped Getty heir in “All The Money In The World.” Charley comes from a poor family, with a dad who doesn’t seem to care that he’s barely raising his kid in squalor, and with no mother in sight.
One day, Charley goes for a run through their new community in Oregon and discovers a horse race track. It’s nothing glamorous — not much about that sport is — but Charley’s attracted to the horses, particularly one named Lean On Pete, owned by Del (Steve Buscemi), who offers Charley a job helping to care for that horse and a few others in his stable. The two of them travel to various tracks on what has to be the lowest rung of the racing world, the fair circuit. Charley loves it despite the desperation of everyone around him. At one of the stops, he meets Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), a jockey who occasionally rides for Del. She’s nice to the boy and gives him some insight into the racket they’re in, reminding Charley that the horses aren’t pets — they’re only going to be around as long as they can outrun the other horses.
When his favorite horse, Lean On Pete, can’t cut the mustard, Del deals him away to another owner, but Charley takes matters — and the horse — into his own hands. He steals one of Del’s trailers, puts the horse inside, and takes off. He can’t go home because the situation there has become untenable (no spoilers here), so Charley takes off to find the only other living relative he knows of, his mother’s sister Martha.
At this point, we’re steered away from the Steve Buscemi character’s world, which is a shame, because it’s the only thing interesting in the movie. Instead, we get a long road trip with this kid and the stolen horse and trailer. The latter eventually runs out of gas, and Charley hasn’t a penny to his name, so he walks Lean On Pete across some harsh landscape in a sequence that seems like it will never end. Perhaps we’re supposed to view him as a sensitive sort, but all I saw was a kid who makes one bad decision after another. By this point, I didn’t care one bit about this teenage boy — or the horse he rode in on.
I give “Lean On Pete” a 3 out of 10.