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'Lean on Pete' is a poignant coming-of-age story

'Lean on Pete' is a poignant coming-of-age story

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Fifteen-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) drifts from day to day with little direction in life. His mom took off a long time ago, never to be seen again, and his ne’er-do-well dad, Ray (Travis Fimmel), is nobody’s idea of a role model. Ray sees nothing wrong with bedding other men’s wives — and allowing them to get friendlier with the sensitive Charley than he probably should.

Charley’s perspective begins to change when he meets Del (the indispensable Steve Buscemi), a horse trainer, racetrack habitué and owner of Lean on Pete. The horse is on its last legs and likely has a glue factory in its future. So it’s all the more touching when Charley bonds with the animal — even though jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) warns him not to get too attached.

Del isn’t a bad guy, but he’s crankier than he needs to be and not shy about hurting Charley’s feelings. Over a meal, he chastises the boy for lacking table manners. And his only concern about Lean on Pete is whether the horse can still win races.

Charlie soon finds himself faced with a family crisis and is forced to make a fateful decision.

Seldom has a human being been so painfully alone.

Based on the novel by Willy Vlautin, “Lean on Pete” is not the sentimental boy-and-his-horse flick that audiences might expect, and it’s certainly not for children. It’s a contemplative art film of subtle beauty, reminiscent of such indie dramas as “American Honey” and “Wendy and Lucy.”

Working from his own screenplay, British director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”) paints a portrait of an America seldom seen on film — a land in which folks struggle from paycheck to paycheck with little hope and less opportunity. And he elicits a strong performance from Plummer (“All the Money in the World”), who poignantly captures Charley’s vulnerability.

“Lean on Pete” demands a different kind of attention from moviegoers. But the rewards are worth it.

What “Lean on Pete”• {span class=”print_trim”}3½ stars out of fourRun time 2:00 • Rating R • Content Language and brief violence

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