Lean on Pete

Thumb pete

Andrew Haigh is the rare filmmaker that’s more interested in presenting viewers with fully-realized characters—who feel like they existed before they came into frame and will continue to do after they leave it—than any sort of high concept or twisting plot. Most writers treat their supporting characters especially like plot devices, only fleshing them out to the degree they impact their protagonist. Not Haigh. In his masterful “Lean on Pete,” we meet a dozen or so people whom we don’t spend much time with, but who feel real. There’s Steve Buscemi’s irascible race horse owner, Chloe Sevigny’s horse rider, Amy Seimetz cooking breakfast, Steve Zahn’s homeless alcoholic, and several others who cross paths with our hero, a boy named Charlie, played with heartfelt, poignant perfection by Charlie Plummer. Again and again, I marveled at the humanist depth of the world Haigh creates, one that can only be rendered by a truly great writer and director, working near the top of his game.

The man behind the Oscar-nominated “45 Years” shifts gears to the Pacific Northwest in “Lean on Pete,” where we meet a relatively average kid named Charlie. He’s 15; he runs in the morning; he struggles near poverty with his single father. In the opening scenes, he mentions to his dad’s new love interest (Seimetz) that the reason the cereal is in the fridge is because roaches can get to it more easily in the cabinet. It’s these subtle little exchanges that Haigh so often uses to flesh out his characters without overemphasis. For the most part, it seems like Charlie is a nice, smart teenager. His life changes when he’s running by a horse track one day and encounters the cantankerous Del (Buscemi), who needs help with a flat tire. He offers Charlie $10 to help him out. And then $25 a day to do other random jobs. And that’s when Charlie meets “Lean on Pete,” one of Del’s gorgeous horses. Del exists on the fringe of horse racing, taking the animals to small, two-horse races, and often selling them after they succeed—or, in a dire bit of foreshadowing, “sending them to Mexico” if they don’t. Charlie quickly figures out what that means.

In ways I wouldn’t spoil, “Lean on Pete” becomes something of a road movie about a boy and the horse who gives the movie its name. As the film builds momentum, Charlie’s situation becomes increasingly desperate and moving, but never in a way that feels melodramatic. The main reason for that is the incredible trust that Haigh places in Plummer, placing him in the center of almost every scene in the film and asking him to carry it. This is such a subtle, beautiful performance, one that really anchors what could have so easily become manipulative garbage—most coming-of-age stories that place teenagers in jeopardy are—but one quickly feels like they know Charlie. Without monologues or voiceover, we come to understand why Charlie makes the decisions he does. Just as Rampling’s performance in “45 Years” grew in power as she became even more internalized (think about her final scene in the bathroom, where she does more just by looking in a mirror than most actresses can with a monologue), Plummer has a similar arc. He becomes so fully realized that he doesn’t need to explain what he’s doing. We just believe it.

Part of the reason for that—and this could be in part due to the fact that I have three young sons—one quickly comes to care for Charlie. When this young man sees a beautiful animal who may not have many races left in him, he responds emotionally. He’s not yet grown too cynical from adulthood to do so. We go with the beauty of this story in the same manner that Charlie falls for that horse—it feels like we don’t have a choice.

Haigh’s gift for character can sometimes overshadow his technical ability when people write about his work, but there’s a mesmerizing rhythm to “Lean on Pete” that drives the narrative. It’s tempting to call it lyrical, but it’s never quite that underlined. It’s just something in the fabric of his films, the way he gently segues from one encounter on Charlie’s journey to the next without developing that herky-jerky, episodic rhythm that so often defeats “road movies.” Charlie’s plight grows increasingly unnerving, and yet Haigh never goes for the contrived “child in jeopardy” structure or music cues. It’s really the story of someone falling into a dangerous situation because he acts with his heart—he doesn’t know how to do anything else.

It sounds clichéd, but you really don’t see a lot of movies like “Lean on Pete” in a calendar year. Even films ostensibly made for an adult audience often come to them with a higher concept than “a boy and horse.” And so I worry that it’s a tough sell for people who are going to consider it either a movie for young audiences or a manipulative melodrama. And that’s something else that should further our appreciation of Haigh. He follows up a movie about an elderly, married couple at a crossroads with that of a journey film about a runaway teen and a horse. At first, it would seem that “45 Years” and “Lean on Pete” have nothing in common, but it’s Haigh’s power with the way people interact—how they talk, what they reveal, what they choose to hide—his remarkable trust in his actors and his own storytelling abilities that tie them together. 

This review was filed from the SXSW Film Festival.


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Heyday, BBC Set Rising Director Mahalia Belo For Slavery Drama ‘The Long Song’

EXCLUSIVE: Harry Potter producer David Heyman and the BBC are understood to have set rising filmmaker Mahalia Belo (Requiem) as their director on anticipated high-end drama The Long Song. I hear the deal is just being finalized now.

The Long Song is based on Andrea Levy’s celebrated Booker Prize-shortlisted novel about the dying days of slavery in the Caribbean. The drama will chart the story of a strong-willed young woman on a Jamaican sugar plantation who goes from being a slave to the mother of a gentleman. Shoot date and cast are not set but this could go later this year. I gather the hot project will air in the UK as a 3×60 minute drama and will be a 2×120 piece for the rest of the world.

Belo, who will direct all three parts of the drama, has been considered a talent to watch in the UK for a few years now. She won a Breakthrough BAFTA in 2017 for her Channel4 TV movie Ellen, starring Jessica Barden (The Lobster) and Joe Dempsie (Game Of Thrones), and took her career to the next level this year with well-received BBC-Netflix mystery Requiem. Her 2013 short Volume debuted at Sundance and won a British Independent Film Award.

Writer is Sarah Williams, who was screenwriter of Anne Hathaway romance Becoming Jane and co-writer with Paula Milne on BBC One’s Small Island. Heyman’s Heyday Television, a joint venture with NBC Universal, is producing and NBC Universal International Distribution is distributing. Executive producers are Heyman (Gravity) and Rosie Alison (Paddington), Levy (Small Island) and Williams with Ben Irving for BBC One (His Dark Materials).

The Long Song is Gravity and Paddington producer Heyman’s latest project for the BBC; he also teamed with the broadcaster on white collar crime trilogy Worricker, which starred Bill Nighy, Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Christopher Walken, Helena Bonham Carter and Winona Ryder. The UK super-producer is currently in production on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Belo is repped by WME and Independent Talent.


Jimmy Kimmel Wonders How Donald Trump Will Spell ‘Subpoena’ In Tweets

‘It was another day of March Madness for the Trump administration,” Jimmy Kimmel said on on his ABC late-night how, referencing New York Times report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization demanding it hand over docs related to business done with Russia.

“In an investigation like this, it’s important to follow the money, no matter how many porn stars it leads to,” Kimmel insisted.

“Donald Trump hasn’t tweeted about the subpoena yet. Probably because he doesn’t know how to spell ‘subpoena’,” Kimmel speculated.

“There are rumors he may try to fire Robert Mueller, which…that would have to be it, right? At that point, we’d have to just wait until he goes to Mar A Lago and lock him in it forever,” Kimmel wondered.

Trump had previously said Mueller looking into his personal finances would be a “red line,”  prompting Kimmel to ask, “Why do I feel like this ends with Melania in a trench coat handing Robert Mueller papers in an underground parking lot somewhere?”

Meanwhile, new developments on Stormy Daniels.

“The adult film star who may or definitely did have sex with Donald Trump is trying to raise money to pay her legal fees,” Kimmel updated.

She has launched a fundraising page, so “now you can give money to a porn star, just like the President of the United States!”

“I never thought giving money to a porn star would be considered to be an act of patriotism,” Kimmel marveled.

“But, then again, I also never thought a guy who got in a Twitter war with Cher would become President.”


‘HTGAWM’ Season 4 Finale: Creator Pete Nowalk On Death, Deportation & New Bonnie Mystery

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about tonight’s How to Get Away With Murder Season 4 finale “Nobody Else is Dying” on ABC.

A car crash, a stolen baby, a long-lost son, a break-up, deportation, criminal justice reform, and, obviously, murder – the Season 4 finale of How to Get Away With Murder had it all covered. Lots of loose ends were tied up, and the foundations laid for a brand new mystery – with a new character – that could take the show into its as-yet unconfirmed fifth season.

First up on the list of revelations was this epic twist: Bonnie (Liza Weil) is not dead. Yes, we saw an overturned car at the end of the previous episode; yes, it definitely looked like she was a goner, and in true HTGAWM twisty style, the finale episode opened with what we assumed was her corpse on a table. There was the medical examiner listing the injuries of “the decedent” while standing over the body – it was all very convincing. Then we had to wait for two whole scenes before a very-much-alive Bonnie bounded into view and it all fell into place: Denver (Benito Martinez) is dead; Bonnie is not.

Fans were right to be nervous for Bonnie. As creator Pete Nowalk told press at a preview screening, no one is safe. “Game of Thrones, that first season, it was crazy to me to kill off the main character, but I think to me, that’s the nature of this show, and it makes it really hard because I’ve fallen in love with the characters. That’s what’s hard writing it, and it’s also hard for the actors. They do know that anyone could go out at any point.”

But perhaps the biggest deal of the finale was the fantastically juicy new mystery in the form of new character Gabriel Maddox (Rome Flynn). Towards the end of the episode, Frank (Charlie Weber) is back at Middleton, and behind him at enrollment, a new guy catches his eye. New guy says his name at the sign-up desk, and that’s it, Frank is sure. He makes a call. “Her kid’s here,” he says, ominously.

Meanwhile, we’re thrown other new-mystery bones. Nate (Billy Brown) is sorting through Denver’s pile of evidence, having already saved the day by retrieving the incriminating hard drive. Nate zeroes in on the file Denver kept on Bonnie. ‘100% DNA match’ someone has helpfully scribbled on a test result print-out. ‘Child still alive?’ is written next to it. Is this mystery Maddox person Bonnie’s son? We were definitely told he was dead. But of course, it’s not HTGAWM’s style to be straightforward. Also, more stress for Bonnie would be unfortunate, since she’s just happily discovered she’s a Tinder match with the prosecutor (John Hensley).


“I can’t really tease too much,” Nowalk said, “but just know that was a genetic test for Bonnie and this child, so it’s all related basically. All we know is Bonnie said in episode five that she was told her child was born dead. So she’s lying, or someone else is lying to Bonnie, it’s all possible.”

When it comes to Denver’s untimely death, we’re not positive the culprit is Jorge (Esai Morales), Laurel (Karla Souza)’s estranged father, but we do see him in possession of Laurel’s baby son, “to remind you of what’s at stake here” he tells her on the phone, while accusing her of hurting her mother, who is missing.

Which brings us to a piece of mystery that remains unsolved in this episode: has Laurel killed her mother? “She is dead to me, as are you,” Laurel tells her dad, after Annalise (Viola Davis) negotiates the return of the baby.

But next comes something much more telling. While, thanks to Annalise’s machinations, Jorge is being picked up by the feds for allegedly murdering Denver, we see Laurel asleep and dreaming about the fight with her mom. “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you,” Laurel screams at her. Then Laurel’s awake and in the shower with vicious scratches on her arm – a nice intriguing lead-in to a potential Season 5 storyline.

“The whole premise of the show is we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re in an emotional moment,” Nowalk said of Laurel’s situation. “I do think something clearly happened – the scratches aren’t from a cat we haven’t seen yet.”


Then there’s the messy collapse of Asher (Matt McGorry) and Michaela (Aja Naomi King)’s romance after Michaela cheated with Scandal’s Marcus Walker (Cornelius Smith Jr.) in the Scandal/ HTGAWM crossover episode. Early on in the finale, we’re treated to a shot of Asher sobbing in the bathroom, followed by a fight in which she tells him, “I’m not evil.”

But wait, maybe she is evil. Despite Annalise’s careful, considerate planning to stop Simon (Behzad Dabu) telling the feds everything, and her shutting down Michaela’s idea to call ICE and have him deported – “I’m not sending a gay man back to Pakistan, that’s not who we are” – Michaela goes and calls ICE anyway, and off Simon goes.

Which leads to an explosive long-time-coming stand-off between Michaela and Annalise. “You’ve been trying to become me this whole time,” Annalise says, “and now that you’ve done it you must be proud.”

“I’ve become me,” Michaela shoots back.

Luckily, we pause for a heartwarming moment: Annalise has won her criminal justice reform class action case in the Supreme Court and is now, the television announces, “a legal powerhouse on a national level.” Then a bit later, Annalise is being interviewed on camera. “What will you do next?” the interviewer asks. “I don’t know” Annalise says, looking lost.

Fortunately Nowalk knows better. If there is to be a Season 5, he sees big career moves for Annalise after this class action case. “Being a different type of defense attorney I think will really drive her,” he said, adding, “I want to make it feel as different and real as possible. I don’t think she’s going to go back to teaching.”

What’s certain is that after this finale, fans will be desperate to hear confirmation of a Season 5.

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