Lean on Pete
by writer/director Andrew Haigh
When I first read Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, it was like being punched in the gut. The novel broke my heart. I could not get it out of my head. I wanted to reach through the pages of the story and help this fifteen-year-old kid. It was about the tragedy of being left behind but also about resilience in the face of struggle. It was about the importance of kindness and compassion. It was a story both intimate and epic, and it felt bracingly truthful. What was also so exhilarating about the novel was how grounded it felt with its complete lack of sentimentality. That is no easy feat when the central relationship is between a boy and his horse.
It was essential to me that the movie had a similar tone. It had to be rooted in the real world. It had to embrace both its beauty as well as its darkness. In other words, it had to feel authentic. To help me tell the story in the best way I could, I headed to Oregon for a few months. I hung out at the racetrack in Portland. I met with jockeys and trainers and grooms. I listened to their stories and was given a glimpse into the toughness of their world. I went to county fairs. I lost money on horses. I ate too many 'elephant ears.' I then spent two months driving from Portland to Laramie following the exact route that Charley follows in the novel. I travelled through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. I camped out and ate in diners. It was about discovering the small details that could help tell the bigger picture of this story. For me, it is always the little details that show us the fabric of a life. It was only after this trip that I felt I was able to start writing the script.
I hope that this sense of authenticity comes through the screen to those that watch the film. I know that the incredible cast certainly brought the story to life in ways I could only have imagined. My greatest hope is that the film will have the same effect on the audience as the novel did on me. I hope it burrows deep and lingers on in your mind. I hope you think about it in the following days as you get on with your life. To me, that is always one of the joys of cinema.