LEAN ON PETE (2018, Andrew Haigh)
An emotional haymaker so blindsiding you’ll stumble woozy from the theater, wondering where that uppercut came from. Haigh’s fourth feature is unlike WEEKEND (I haven’t seen GREEK PETE; has anyone?) or 45 YEARS, though like the latter film it’s a literary adaptation, and it shows — mostly in the ramshackle narrative that lurches from incident to incident, deftly introducing supporting characters and tossing them aside in episodic, merciless fashion. But its singular focus on Charley (a galvanizing performance from Charlie Plummer combining naïve joy with vulnerable, aching melancholy) gives it a propulsive drive, even when you have no idea where it’s going.
Stylistically, Haigh knows his camera isn’t the main attraction here, so he wisely avoids sizzle, but he still manages a lanky, silky visual scheme involving long dissolves, slow focus racks, and tender close-ups. He shoots Plummer low in the frame, the extra headroom exploring both the big sky of the rugged Northwest USA and the relative smallness of Charley and his place in the world. A nearly invisible score (of low drones and sleepy chords) puts the boy-and-his-horse story at the forefront, two ambling souls wandering vast plains and looking for a connection and survival. Pete isn’t a metaphorical horse representing liberty or otherness; he’s an animal who just wants a job to do and to please those who take care of him. And when you put it like that, so is Charley.