Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year old boy looking for work over the summer. He lives with his dad, Ray Thompson (Travis Fimmel) in a rural area. Charley asks Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) for a job. Del hires him as a stable boy taking care of the horses. A female jockey named Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) urges Charley to dismiss any ideas of saving the animals. Charley becomes sympathetic to the plight of the overused racehorses. He then becomes attached to a five year old horse called Lean on Pete.\
Charley witnesses his father being brutally attacked in the middle of the night at their house and is helpless to do anything about it. Mr. Thompson sustains major injuries especially to the abdomen. His dad encourages Charley to continue work to bring money in, while he is laid up in the hospital. The nurses and doctors assure Charley that his dad will be fine.
While his father is in the hospital the police and the doctors recommend that Charley go to a foster home. He knows how this will turn out and he figures he will take his chances and travel to Wyoming across country to find his aunt, who originally wanted custody in the first place.
Charley endures much tragedy in a short amount of time. Observing the attack and illness of his father, traveling across country to try to save 'Lean on Pete', and being accosted by a drunken homeless man. All these things makes Charley a survivalist. Every time Charley finds himself getting attached to someone or something, fate steps in and alters things. I like the fact that Charley is a doer and takes a chance instead of ending up a ward of the state.
Charley proves time and time again that he is a nurturer and a kind-hearted boy. However, when he is pushed to the limit, he defends what is his and moves onward toward finding a place for 'Lean on Pete' and himself.This story was heartbreaking and a tale of endurance. Charley showed resilience that I have not seen in most adults. It reminded me of the likes of 'Black Stallion' and 'White Fang', but with a different twist of fate. No matter what things are thrown his way, Charley seems to hang on and endure through the desert and through the nights. He had been through so much, I actually was wondering when he would breakdown. There were various levels of kindness and tragedy in this film.
Overall, this was an excellent coming of age story. It was well written with great casting and I loved the cinematography. The score by James Edward barker helped to enhance the sullen, emotional tone of the film.I left this experience feeling burdened with guilt that I have complained over petty things in comparison to what this character has been through. I think that they did a tremendous job with vary few cast of characters. I would love to read this novel, which was written by Willy Vlautin.