Concrete Cowboy (2020)

Concrete Cowboy
Director: Ricky Staub
Writer: Ricky Staub, Dan Walser
Based on: G. Neri‘s novel Ghetto Cowboy
Cast: Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin, Lorraine Toussaint, Jharrel Jerome, Ivannah-Mercedes, Jamil Prattis, Method Man, Byron Bowers, Liz Priestley, Michael Ta’Bon, Devenie Young
Seen on: 16.7.2021

Plot:
After one more time getting into trouble, Cole’s (Caleb McLaughlin) mother has had enough and just drops him off with his father Harp (Idris Elba) in Philadelphia. Harp is part of tight-knit community of city cowboys who are keeping their horses in the middle of the town, a thorn in the side of city development, and he has little space for Cole. He literally shares his home with a horse instead. Nevertheless, Cole tries to find a space – if not with the cowboys, then with his old friend Smush (Jharrel Jerome) who has turned to dealing.

Concrete Cowboy is set in a fascinating environment, but I didn’t connect with the story as much as I would have liked. It almost wished, despite the excellent performances, that this was a documentary.

The film poster showing a collage of Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) on a horse, and his father Harp (Idris Elba) wearing a cowboy hat. They are surrounded by flowers, an appartment building and a car.

Concrete Cowboy draws on an existing community of urband Black cowboys (and cowgirls) in Philadelphia, including some cast members who come directly from the community themselves. It’s a fascinating subculture that the film explores – at times. When it does, it is at its strongest.

The rest of the time, the film is preoccupied with the relationship between Cole and Harp and that just didn’t work out for me. When Cole arrives, Harp doesn’t even have food in the fridge for him and even after Cole puts into words how much this feels like a rejection to him (especially when Harp proves to be caring in his treatment of others and of horses), Harp doesn’t make any effort at all to show a little more consideration. Instead he tells Cole about how he came by his name, and that it was chosen with thought and love. That scene, albeit masterfully acted, rang hollow to me because Cole is saying “love me now” and Harp answers “I loved you then”, and we are meant to take it as a grand moment of emotional resolve. It doesn’t work that way, at least not in my book.

Harp (Idris Elba) on a meadow just outside of an apartment building and a city street.

It is no wonder that Cole would rather spend some time with Smush (a captivating performance by Jerome makes it even easier to understand). Unfortunately, that particular plot line is a little too clichéd to really sell its emotionality anymore. When the big dramatic moment comes, it is so expected that it feels more like ticking off a checkbox in the plot than a real emotional moment.

It’s not that the film is unwatchable, far from it. But much like Cole feels out of place with the cowboys at first, so does he feel out of place in the film entirely. If the film had focused on the cowboys and their living circumstances, I think I would have liked it a lot better than watching Cole growing into the community (at least partly).

Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) wearing a cowboy hat.

Summarizing: a bit of a mixed bag.

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