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One could be forgiven for fearing syrupy sentimentality from a drama about the emotional bond between a boy and his horse. But easy pathos isn’t in the toolbox of British master Andrew Haigh, whose last two films, Weekend and 45 Years, put him on the map as an understated and achingly perceptive chronicler of human relationships.
His focus here is on a sensitive teenager named Charley (gifted newcomer Charlie Plummer), who, in the absence of his deadbeat dad, bonds with the damaged goods (both human and equine) at his local racecourse. Taken under the wing of jaded race-circuit vet, Del (Steve Buscemi), and jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny), Charley quickly empathises with a racehorse named ‘Lean on Pete’, especially after discovering he’s being dangerously overworked to make a quick buck. When the fate of the horse is thrown into jeopardy, Charley escapes with him and begins an odyssey through rural America that is as eye-opening as it is deeply affecting. — JF
“An emotionally complex film, economically scripted and full of delicately crafted performances… Plummer is magnificent in the lead, intuitive and naturalistic, exuding quiet resilience as the reality of his character’s worsening situation dawns on him… Haigh also demonstrates his continued mastery of his craft, following here in the grand tradition of US-bound Euro auteurs like Wim Wenders by delivering an outsider’s portrait of America that’s fully attuned to both the mythic grandeur and the harsh realities of life in a country where wide-open spaces belie the high cost of freedom.” — Alistair Harkness, The Scotsman