CONCRETE COWBOY - (L-R) Idris Elba as Harp and Caleb McLaughlin as Cole. Cr. Aaron Ricketts / NETFLIX © 2021

Netflix Review – Concrete Cowboy (2021)

If there’s one thing outside of comic book movies that we seem to get a lot of these days – and, indeed, through a lot of cinema’s wealthy history – is the coming-of-age tale, mainly because such stories speak to all of us. We may not have had the same experiences as those on screen but the pathway from child to teenage to adult comes in all shapes and sizes, from different places across the globe and from different backgrounds but, whatever the subtle changes, it’s the core narrative that always rings true. Well, saddle up (horse pun intended) for another ride down the familiar lane with Concrete Cowboy, which comes to Netflix this Easter after making a decent splash at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Cr: Jessica Kourkounis / Netflix © 2021

This one follows Cole (Stranger ThingsCaleb McLaughlin) who is having a tough time on the school front. Troubled and feeling out of place, his latest exploits have seen him expelled from school, a sequence we see play out over a black background as the principal passes his ruling over the phone. His mother has had her patience tested once too often and drives Cole to Philadelphia to his estranged father Harp’s (Idris Elba) home. There, he tries not only to comes to terms with being around his father once more but with his new surroundings, a small community of horseback riders in the neighbourhood of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club. Both struggle to be the people the other hopes they will be but over the course of time together, the bond begins to mend.

If that all sounds “been there, done that” well the truth is that it will do: perhaps not the horses or the surrounding riders but the underlying narrative of people – young and old – trying to find their place and their purpose in life. Cole is lost, largely down to his father’s distance, and is unable to fit in anywhere he goes but in the strangest places, we sometimes find what we are looking for and in Ricky Staub‘s delicate yet repetitive film, we get just that.

Cr: Netflix © 2021

Co-written with Dan Walser, the beats are true but clichéd, the story follows the path well trodden but despite its familiarity it works for the most part, delving into the undercurrents of family, place, fathers and sons and community, the latter of which has had its fair share of news coverage in recent years. It wears its heart and emotions on its sleeve and while it doesn’t work all the time, when it does it resonates strongly, propelled by Elba’s magnetism and McLaughlin‘s naïve yet touching central turn that allows him to expand his horizons beyond Mind Flayers and otherworldly exploits.

There’s a real beauty to Concrete Cowboy, from its urban roots steeped in history and culture, through the majestic horses that stride all through it, elevating what is a unoriginal premise but shot with love and affection for its subjects and its surroundings, gives a unique angle to its well-worn narrative.

★★★


Drama | USA, 2020 | 15 | Netflix | 2nd April 2021 | Dir.Ricky Staub | Idris Elba, Lorraine Toussaint, Caleb McLaughlin, Method Man, Jharrel Jerome