REVIEW: Lean on Pete

29 07 2018

As I hit “publish” on this piece, “Lean on Pete,” one of 2018’s best releases, is available to stream on Amazon Prime. You should do so as soon as possible, provided your heart is open to being broken in the most artful and least sensational of ways.

The film stuck with me from the first time I saw it at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. There, in my review for Slashfilm, I wrote:

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a social realist drama of the highest order, combining the gentle pastoral touch of David Lynch’s The Straight Story with a probing sympathy for individuals on the edge of society recalling the best of the Dardenne brothers. There’s no armchair sociology here, just rich character observation steeped in a spirit of compassion. Haigh never veers into grandstanding “issues movie” territory or troubled youth drama. It’s just the story of an adolescent boy in need of the tiniest bit of permanence and security.

Without the slightest whiff of personification or anthropomorphism, a bond develops between Charley [the teenaged protagonist] and Lean on Pete [the titular horse], unlike the usual cinematic connection between boy and animal. The horse does not exist to teach Charley some lesson about himself or life. He’s an extension of Charley himself, an object onto which he can project some of the greatest aspirations he holds for an uncertain future. When he’s with Lean on Pete, Plummer’s smile is radiant enough to power all the stadium lights at the racetrack, which makes the slow disappearance of that grin even more devastating.”

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REVIEW: 45 Years

26 12 2015

45 YearsAndrew Haigh’s “45 Years” provided me a joyously maddening experience the likes of which I can honestly say I don’t think I had felt since “The Wolf of Wall Street” back in 2013. As these movies rolled into their conclusion, I thought I had completely made up my mind about them after seeing a relatively homogenous product throughout.

Then, a brilliant final shot flashes before the credits, and I am left reeling. Given a new picture with which to reframe everything, I have no choice but to dwell on it much longer than I had anticipated. Haigh’s film has the benefit of being literally half the length of Scorsese’s, so the bait-and-switch feels a little less frustrating. But what to make of a film that feels relatively monotone for 90 minutes only to crescendo out of the blue?

I don’t think this qualifies as a “spoiler” to discuss the close of “45 Years” so heavily; this stunning shot is not any kind of plot twist. It simply casts the rest of the film’s events in a much different light, and it does so with forceful impact.

Most of “45 Years” unfolds like a chamber play between the greying Mercer couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay). His declining health prompts the celebration of their anniversary at a rather odd interval – the 45th year – and things only getting stranger with a bombshell revelation that comes in the post the week of the event. This news, seemingly simple, sends shockwaves through their long marriage that have profound, lasting implications.

The inciting event is nothing too spectacular or far-fetched, and it only serves to inspire a muted, grounded reaction from the principal cast. Haigh stands back and lets the camera observe them taking in the ramifications. This has a particularly haunting effect when following Rampling, whose character recalls Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie from “Vertigo” in her determined wandering. The tone gets established early and remains consistent throughout, almost allowing the film to lull the viewer into a certain complacency…

…only to receive the jolt of the final shot, carried by Rampling in an extraordinarily devastating fashion. I feel like I could watch this scene on YouTube again and again, and part of me wonders how much I really need the hour-and-a-half vamp of “45 Years” to receive the gut punch at the same strength. B+3stars

REVIEW: Weekend

10 03 2012

In a year that saw “No Strings Attached” and “Friends with Benefits” make light of sex’s role in determining the fate of a serious relationship, it’s very refreshing to see the dark and honest underside of those movies in “Weekend.”  Andrew Haigh’s British realist tale of two men (yes, get over it) attempting to determine what their one-night stand really means is a very illuminating film about assessing their values and priorities.  No matter your sexual orientation, the movie speaks to the tortured and uncertain romantic desires in all of us.

The characters, Tom Cullen’s Russell and Chris New’s Glen, are so lucidly and poignantly realized that their candid conversations never seem the tiniest bit fabricated.  Haigh’s intimate, fly-on-the-wall filming strategy pays dividends as we feel a part of the discussion, a third character in the narrative with no lines.  The naturalism is effortless, the execution practically flawless.

“Weekend” is mostly told in poignant shots and informal conversations, parts that seem small but ultimately add up to something big.  As Russell and Glen sort through their past, their commitments, and their futures, they start to get at the core of some very important questions for all couples to ask themselves.

Of course it wasn’t Academy-friendly because neither of the characters died – yes, this is real – but the real accomplishment of “Weekend” is to make a movie that speaks to the problems that all relationships face without ignoring or glossing over the particular challenges that face homosexuals in 2011.  It doesn’t shy away from some raw images, so if that makes you uncomfortable, then maybe this isn’t the movie for you.  But if you want to see the movie of 2011 that best captures humanity between the sheets, then this is definitely one to add to your Netflix queue.  B+