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Soundtrack review: Lean on Pete (James Edward Barker – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Lean on Pete (James Edward Barker – 2018)

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Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer) arrives in Portland, Oregon with his single father Ray (Travis Fimmel), both of them eager for a fresh start after a series of hard knocks. While Ray descends into personal turmoil, Charley finds acceptance and camaraderie at a local racetrack where he lands a job caring for an aging Quarter Horse named Lean On Pete. The horse’s gruff owner Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi) and his seasoned jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny) help Charley fill the void of his father’s absence—until he discovers that Pete is bound for slaughter, prompting him to take extreme measures to spare his new friend’s life. Charley and Pete head out into the great unknown, embarking on an odyssey across the new American frontier in search of a loving aunt Charley hasn’t seen in years. James Edward Barker wrote the score.

As you all probably know I am quite attracted to the quieter, more minimalist side of music in general and film music in particular. For more than 10 years I have found solace in compositions from a pair of musicians who built their legend before turning to film music, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis who have created and constructed a sparse, poignant sound like no other, a sound they keep developing and deepening year after year. I write all this because “Lean on Pete” conjures the same mood, maybe with less strings and definitely with less melodies than how Cave and Ellis do it; James Edward Barker went for complete detachment here, for a music that is bare and raw, isolated and lonely and for me, quite intimate. There is nothing there but the performers and their interaction with the instruments…no sound design, nothing fake, this score is stripped of everything that doesn’t matter.

The composer himself warned us that “Although there are small hooks, chords and note repetitions, there is no essential melody played and there are no thematic changes for different characters” but a cue like “Burns” is melodic to me; it’s a sad, sparse piece built on strings and tone but it’s poignant and affecting for me and it’s the kind of cue I’ve always appreciated and felt close to. “Burns” evokes that moment when you are at the end of the rope and need to make a drastic decision.

“Lean of Pete” is a quiet and chili score; it makes me yearn for warmth which means the music affects me and makes me feel and this is all I can ask from such a composition. I just enjoy this atmosphere, heavy, poignant, hopeless almost, I feel comfortable listening to this kind of music, it helps me think and focus on my own tribulations. At times it made me think of the broken and scarred Marco Beltrami score for “Logan” from last year, one of my favorite 2017 scores. James Edward Barker managed to evoke the loneliness of a trip taken through a barren land, a loneliness filled by the emotions of the main character.

Cue rating: 75 / 100

Highlights:
Burns
Bus to Margie [Extended Version]

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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