This coming of age drama from British director Andrew Haigh offers an insight into the world of low budget horse racing in America’s north west. It focuses on 15 year old Charley Thompson, living with his father, who scratches a living, moving around and indulging in his favourite past time of seducing waitresses. The opening scene sees Charley heading out for an early morning run – he stops to pick up cardboard and put it in the recycling bin. This small act indicates to us that this is not a delinquent’s tale. When he returns he finds an unknown woman cooking breakfast: “Can I get a glass of water?” he asks. “Sure it’s your house,” she tells him, but we know from this exchange that it doesn’t feel that way, that his peripatetic lifestyle means that nowhere feels like home.
As with Florida Project the child here is as much looking after their parents as vice versa but it’s also an affectionate, negotiated relationship, one full of banter, and understanding of each other’s different character. While his father is out, Charley hangs around the house until he meets Buscemi, a foul mouthed, down to earth trainer around the horse racing circuit. Buscemi swearing belongs in a gallery of great American art. Buscemi takes him on and Charley forms a bond with the ageing racehorse Lean On Pete, who is on his last chance before being “sent to Mexico”. Buscemi runs his horses into the ground, but he’s not portrayed as the evil logging corporation the plucky kids have to fight against. It’s not Free Pete. He offers Charley the advice to “Do something else before there’s nothing else you can do”.
After his dad is hospitalised by the jealous husband of his latest fling, and here it switches mode, from a movie that might be about a battle between two father figures to a road movie. It’s an unsentimental but equally touching tale. Charley finds the characters he needs in the material available. It’s an extraordinary performance by Charlie Plummer who is not off the screen for almost the entire movie, full of restraint and expressive empathy.
Amidst the big vistas of Oregon it maintains an intimate scope. There’s a good trilogy of realistic and sympathetic portrayals of childhood and parents this year in The Florida Project, Lady Bird and this.