Story

Lean on Pete is adapted from a novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. The main character is 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer), who lives alone with his single father (Travis Fimmel). Charley finds work with racehorse owner and trainer Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), helping him care for an older horse called Lean on Pete. Charley becomes increasingly attached to the horse, and he’s concerned when he learns what happens to racehorses that stop winning.

One fateful night, Charley’s father is attacked in their house and hospitalised, leaving Charley to fend for himself. On the same night that Charley loses his father to a fatal infection, he also learns that Lean on Pete is going to be sold for horse meat. In a state of desperation, Charley decides to flee and to take Lean on Pete with him. Together, the boy and the horse travel across America in search of a home.

Themes

Parental abandonment; child neglect; poverty and hardship; death of a parent; horseracing; animal cruelty

Violence

Lean on Pete has several violent scenes. For example:

  • Charley’s father is violently assaulted and stabbed with a broken bottle. This leads to his hospitalisation and death.
  • A drunken man attacks Charley while he’s sleeping. The man tries to strangle Charley and then kicks and punches him.
  • A drunken man punches his female partner in the face.
  • Charley attacks a man with a car wrench, hitting him in the legs, face and head until the man is lying on the ground.
  • A car runs over a horse.

Sexual references

Lean on Pete has some sexual references. For example, Charley’s father often discusses women with him in a sexualised way, encouraging Charley to find girls to date.

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

Lean on Pete shows some use of substances. For example, adults drink alcohol in bars and at home. In one scene a man becomes drunk, which leads to extreme violence.

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern

Product placement

None of concern

Coarse language

Lean on Pete has constant coarse language.

Ideas to discuss with your children

Lean on Pete is a desperate and tragic portrayal of survival against the odds. As well as exposing poverty and disadvantage in America, this movie gives the viewer a glimpse into the seedier side of horseracing. Actor Charlie Plummer’s performance as Charley is poignant and extremely moving. Teenage viewers might find many of Charley’s fears, insecurities and emotions relatable, and for some the issues might hit uncomfortably close to home.

These are the main messages from this movie:

  • Sometimes trying to solve problems on your own can lead to harder struggles.
  • Desperation can lead us to extreme measures.
  • Unconditional love is a fundamental human need.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include:

  • being brace and persistent in working towards goals
  • learning to rely on others.
  • searching for unconditional love
  • showing compassion for animals.

This movie could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues like the:

  • long-term consequences of parental neglect and abandonment
  • effects of poverty and disadvantage
  • effects of traumatic life events and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • ethics of horseracing.