In cinema, certain genres and stories have been reserved for the developing and underdeveloped countries. There is an air of haughtiness when it comes to the characters and stories of the western countries. It not often in American cinema, that one sees a story like “Lean on Pete.” It portrays an invisible side of American society, that people feel far too superior to address but Andrew Haigh, the director of the film has not refrained himself and indulged in the same completely.
Lean on Pete is based on the novel written by Willi Vlautin. Andrew Haigh does not shy away from taking a realistic approach to show the blunt truth of the misery of the characters. He does not resort to any kind of melodrama whatsoever. The screenplay is raw and brute. It hits you hard and makes you uncomfortable as it feels like the shadow of life itself.
Released in 2017, Lean on Pete is a coming of age story of a teenager living with his father who is a single parent, barely making the ends meet. There is a scope of dramatization and maintaining a high emotional quotient among the viewers through it. There are certain tricks in cinema that sometimes act as a catalyst in invoking the desired emotions in the audience, like usage of a music cue. But the director keeps it unadulterated and raw.
“As I watched them I knew I’d probably never be like that.”
It is essential to talk about the music cues here, so often used in cinema today, to completed the performance of the character, making it seem more effective. It lifts some amount of weight from the shoulders of the performer. Where the performers lack sometimes music fills in the void. The intensity and earnestness of the performance can be easily manipulated in cinema, which could not be done in a theatre performance. One removes the props and the brute burden falls on the performance alone and the hold of the performer on his craft. And that is why it would be safe to say that Charlie Plummer has given us one hell of a performance.
The filmmaker has put his faith in Charlie Plummer (playing the character named Charley Thompson) by keeping him in the middle of almost every scene. Charley Thompson feels like s reservoir of chained emotions, on the brink of explosion. But he holds everything within himself and keeps moving forward and battling his way through life. He shares the strongest bond with a horse, from whom the film derives its title Lean on Pete.
Pete was being sent to Mexico, for being slaughtered as he ceased to be a racehorse anymore, due to an injury. Charley absconds with Pete, on s journey to find a place, that he calls his home. On his odyssey, he pours his heart out to Pete as if the gentle beast is understanding every word of what he is saying. It is beautiful to see that but at the same time leaves you with a pang of loneliness. Sometimes in life, you feel attached to someone not because you have known them for too long or you are related by blood, but because you share the misery of being stuck up in similar circumstances. Pain and sorrow sometimes give you that liberty. Striving hard to just procure a day’s meal, being subjected to violence and most of all being lonely and experiencing a sense of forlorn, was something that made Charley, see a lot of himself in Pete.
One of the most accurate depiction of Charlie’s turmoil is expressed in these lines,
“I don’t wanna beg for anything. I didn’t want them to know what I was living like. If they ever thought of me, I’d rather let them think of me as being okay. Playing football and hanging out with Dad. I’d rather let them never see me again than see me like this.”
Credit has to be given the director who has also written the screenplay, for giving the audience meaty and mature characters that are fully shaped, and feel like they did actually exist before the film was made. The character arc of Charley Thompson is just a treat to watch. It makes you uncomfortable as you witness the adversities of life in such a brute form, which we are generally not used to seeing on screen.
In the end, I feel its all about that little ray of hope. That hope which gives you the strength to stand up again and face life. Witnessing the survival instincts in human beings, can sometimes surprise you and leave you bewildered. The harsh extent to which a human spirit can endure. The lyrics of the song in the end I think summarises this whole feeling in an apt manner
“If anybody asks you who I am, just stand up tall and say, I am a giant”
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