The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Netflix] - CONCRETE COWBOY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Netflix] - CONCRETE COWBOY

concrete cowboy review
A troubled teen is sent to live with his estranged father, an urban cowboy in Philadelphia.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ricky Staub

Starring: Caleb McLaughlin, Idris Elba, Jamil Prattis, Jharrel Jerome, Byron Bowers, Lorraine Toussaint, Clifford Smith

concrete cowboy poster

Following The Rider, Lean on Pete and The Mustang, director Ricky Staub's Concrete Cowboy is another story of a troubled male bonding with a horse. The difference here is that Staub's film isn't set on the prairies of the American West, but rather in the streets of urban Philadelphia.

concrete cowboy review

It's in one of these streets that 17-year-old tearaway Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is dumped by his mother. Having lost patience with his troublesome ways, Cole's mom has driven him from Detroit to spend the summer with his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba). Harp belongs to the Fletcher Street crew, a group of urban African-American cowboys (and cowgirls) who run a stable on an urban block, taking care of horses and racing them at local community events.

We soon learn that the stables have had a positive impact on the local community, keeping young men away from the temptations of drugs and crime. Despite Harp's attempts to keep his boy busy shoveling horse manure all day, Cole succumbs to such temptations when he is reunited with childhood friend Smush (Jharrel Jerome), now a drug dealer with ambitions that make him a target of rival gangs.

concrete cowboy review

Despite its unique setting, Concrete Cowboy trots a well-worn course. There are few surprises in this story, as Staub and co-screenwriter Dan Walser tick off a checklist of coming of age in tough circumstances tropes, recalling everything from The Karate Kid to Boyz n the Hood. Cole's bonding with a wild horse never quite achieves the emotional impact of the same scenario in the three movies I mentioned above, and his troubled relationship with his father rarely feels genuine, reduced to a couple of thinly written speeches on the latter's part. Given Elba's top-billing, it's surprising how sidelined he is here. As a result, Harp comes across as colder and crueller towards his boy than I suspect the movie would like.

concrete cowboy review

Staub peppers his supporting cast with the real life cowboys and cowgirls of Fletcher Street, and the movie works best when we're just watching them pound a few beers and shoot the shit around campfires. The movie's best performance comes not from its headline British star but from Jamil Prattis, playing a version of himself, who left behind a life of crime that ultimately put him in a wheelchair for life and who has since found redemption in the Fletcher Street stables. When Prattis and the other real life Philly residents are given centre stage, you can't help but wish Staub had opted for a Chloé Zhao approach and centred his entire movie around them. As it is, Concrete Cowboy is a formulaic urban story occasionally enlivened by the texture gifted by its amateur but authentic supporting cast.

Concrete Cowboy
 is on Netflix UK/ROI from April 2nd.

2021 movie reviews