Lean On Pete ★★★☆☆

The only British entry in competition was Lean On Pete, by Andrew Haigh whose last work was the poignant 45 Years. This latest finds him – as all British directors feel necessary, it seems – making his American movie, a tender, deftly-handled tale of a boy and his horse.

As with Downsizing, I wish this movie had stuck with the rich promise of its first half, where the action is around the race-track where an orphan teenager (lovely performance from Charlie Plummer – his smile could light up the desert night sky) gets a job mucking out and finds a new family in Steve Buscemi’s grizzled trainer Del and Chloe Sevigny’s bruised jockey.

Just as we’re invested in this unlikely family unit – I’m including old nag Pete in the equation – Haigh makes a bolt for the wide open spaces and it’s a bit of slow puncture from there, as boy and horse trudge around the deserts and plains in search of a home, meeting conveniently symbolic characters (Iraq vets, homeless drunks, diner waitresses) along the way. I missed the track, where Buscemi looked like he was about to deliver one of the best performances of his career.

Still, Plummer’s weathered young face is enough to ensure our hearts will break with every chance encounter – after all, in a tough world where we’re all for the knacker’s yard, he’s just a poor kid looking for, er, a stable relationship.

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