Lean on Pete

image for Lean on Pete

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Not suitable under 15; parental guidance to 15 (violent, disturbing scenes, frequent coarse language, strong adult themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Lean on Pete
  • a review of Lean on Pete completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 3 December 2018.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 15 Not suitable due to violent, disturbing scenes, frequent coarse language, and strong adult themes.
Children aged 15 Parental guidance recommended due to violent, disturbing scenes, frequent coarse language, and strong adult themes.
Children aged 16 and over Ok for this age group, however, some children in this age group may still find some of the scenes in this film disturbing and parents should be aware that the film contains violence and scenes of emotional distress.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Lean on Pete
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes, violence and coarse language.
Length: 122 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Lean on Pete is a film that has been adapted from a novel of the same name by author Willy Vlautin. The main character is 15-year-old Charley (Charlie Plummer) who lives alone with his single father (Travis Fimmel). Charley finds work with race horse owner and trainer Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), helping him care for an older race horse called ‘Lean-on-Pete’. Charley becomes more and more attached to the horse and his concern grows as he learns the fate of race horses that start to lose more races than they win. One fateful night, Charley’s father is attacked in their house and hospitalised, leaving Charley to fend for himself. On the same night that Charley loses his father to a fatal infection, he also learns that Lean-on-Pete is going to be sold for horse meat. In a state of desperation and despair, Charley decides to flee and to take Lean-on-Pete with him. Together, the boy and the horse journey across the American frontier, Charley hoping to find his estranged aunt in Wyoming who might be able to care for him.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Parental abandonment; child neglect; poverty and hardship; death of a parent; horse racing; animal cruelty.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There are several scenes of violence in this movie including:

  • Charley’s father is assaulted violently and has a broken bottle stabbed into his abdomen which leads to hospitalisation and death.
  • A drunken man attacks Charley whilst he is sleeping him, trying to strangle him and then kicking and punching him.
  • A drunken man punches his female partner in the face.
  • Charley attacks a man with a car wrench, hitting him in the legs and in the face and head until the man is lying on the ground.
  • A horse is run over by a car.


Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • Charley witnesses his father being violently assaulted and stabbed.
  • There is a very emotional scene when Charley discovers that his father has died in hospital.
  • Charley is heartbroken and beside himself with grief when his horse bolts and is killed by an oncoming car. It is an extremely raw emotional scene.
  • When someone steals money from Charley, he violently attacks the man to get his money back. It is an act of desperation and very emotional as well as violent, as Charley struggles to regain control of himself.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • Charley talks about being abandoned by his mother as a young child.
  • Charley feels afraid to go back to the house where he witnesses his father’s assault and he is afraid to be alone, so he secretly sleeps in the horse stables.
  • Charley is caught trying to steal a meal from a gas station diner. He is desperate, starving and has no money, but is caught by the owners as he tries to leave without paying.
  • Charley and his horse Pete get lost in the desert as they try to find their way to another part of America. They have very little food and water and it is precarious.


Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

Children of this age may be more able to understand the complexity of Charley’s situation and the despair and destitution that he finds himself under. For this reason, older children may find this film even more distressing than younger children. In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • There are many scenes which discuss the brutal reality of the horse racing industry, where horses are sometimes mistreated as they are raced more often and harder than they should be, and if they stop winning are often ‘put down’.
  • There is a scene where a grandfather verbally abuses his granddaughter, calling her fat and greedy. Charley talks with her about why she puts up with the abuse and she tells him that she has nowhere else to go and is trapped.
  • Charley gradually becomes more and more desperate, starving, and destitute as the film progresses creating almost unbearable tension and a sense of despair.


Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children of this age are also likely to be disturbed by the above-mentioned violent and scary scenes. Furthermore, they are likely to be more able to understand the complexity of Charley’s situation and the despair and destitution that he finds himself under. For this reason, older children may find this film even more distressing than younger children.

Product placement

  • None noted.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Charley’s father often discusses women with him in a sexualised way, encouraging Charley to find girls to date and reporting on his own experiences with women.

Nudity and sexual activity

  • None noted.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Adults drinking alcohol in bars and at home.
  • A scene where a man becomes drunk and consequently extremely violent.

Coarse language

There is constant and frequent use of coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Fuck; motherfucker; asshole; shit; bullshit; pussy.

In a nutshell

Lean on Pete is a desperate and tragic portrayal of survival against the odds. As well as exposing an underbelly of poverty and disadvantage in America, the film gives the viewer a glimpse into the seedier side of horse racing. The portrayal of 15-year-old Charley by actor Charlie Plummer is poignant and extremely moving. Teen viewers may find many of Charley’s fears, insecurities and emotions relatable, and parents should be aware that for some viewers the issues and themes may hit a bit too close to home.

The main messages from this movie are that sometimes trying to solve problems on your own can lead to harder struggles; that desperation can lead us to extreme measures; and that unconditional love is a fundamental human need.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Bravery and persistence in working towards a goal.
  • Learning to rely on others.
  • Searching for those that love you unconditionally.
  • Compassion for animals.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • The long-term consequences of parental neglect and abandonment.
  • The effects of poverty and disadvantage.
  • How to deal with traumatic life events.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • The ethics of horse racing.