The 18-year-old actor is a breakthrough in this powerful drama about a boy who bonds with a broken-down racehorse

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Charlie Plummer is in almost every frame of “Lean on Pete,” and he gives this stunning, devastating drama its heart and soul.

Plummer — he played the kidnapping victim in last year’s “All the Money in the World” — stars as Charley, a 15-year-old living with his single father, who befriends a racehorse at the nearby racetrack.

The horse, Lean on Pete, is an aging, broken-down racer on his last legs, competing at the lowest rung of the racing world. His caretaker, Del (played by a perfectly ratty Steve Buscemi), uses buzzers to shock his horses. Del takes on Charley as an apprentice, but warns against him getting too deep in the seedy horse-racing business.

“You should do something else before there’s nothing else you can do,” he tells him.

Charley bonds with Lean on Pete and breaks him out of his stable, heading across several states with him on a journey to Wyoming, where Charley’s aunt lives. Along the way, they encounter various hardships, and writer-director Andrew Haigh (“45 Years”) paints “Lean on Pete” as a story of friendship and desolation in the wide expanse of the American west.

Haigh takes his time with his storytelling, using slow dissolves in between scenes and letting things play out like an illustrated picture book. Throughout, Plummer is mesmerizing, his sunken eyes and gaunt face telling of the layers of hardships Charley is forced to endure.

“Lean on Pete” is difficult viewing, but there’s more to it than a long wallow in depression. It closes on one of the most powerful, lasting images in recent memory, a testament to the impact of a story about a boy and his horse.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Lean on Pete’

GRADE: A

Rated R for language and brief violence

Running time: 122 minutes

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