Directed by: #RickyStaub
Concrete Cowboy (2021) is a Netflix coming of age drama released on the platform in early April and has received strong reviews from critics following its debut. The film follows Cole (McLaughlin), a rebellious teenager who is sent to live with his estranged father (Elba) for the summer in Philadelphia, where he finds kinship with a tight knit community of Black cowboys.
Ricky Staub directs, who has previously helmed the award winning short film The Cage (2017), which writer Dan Walser also produced. The film has so far won Staub the Palm Springs International Film Festival award for Directors to Watch. This movie tells an intimate, personal character based narrative which is superbly directed, displaying beautiful cinematography suiting the modern Western setting well. There is a consistent high quality to the image with dark oranges and browns cropping up throughout the film’s intrinsic colour palette and stunning shots of the urban landscape and horses riding at dusk, making for a warm inviting watch.
The film is told as a gritty slow burner, with the young lead gradually finding his sense of identity, friendships and family in the community he is dropped in by his mother. The character quite literally gets down and dirty when he is sent to clean out the stables and learns the meaning of working hard for a living and his initial reluctance at cleaning out the horses makes for an entertaining sequence. The movie offers an intriguing and refreshingly original concept for the screen with new stories to be told, due to the focus being on a Black Western community of urban cowboys, which is a little known area of America and its compelling narrative and ensemble cast of characters make for wonderful offerings.
Although the film has a strong and intriguing story, it does suffer from some pacing issues and fairly predictable plotting with the coming of age screenplay. However, its rich and lived in setting and heartfelt performances from the cast of real life dwellers of the Philadelphia horse handler community and well known stars mostly make up for these limitations.
Caleb McLaughlin is the standout performance; best known for his role in the hit Netflix series Stranger Things (2016-), his flourishing acting abilities are on full display in this film and he delivers a nuanced, believable performance with a strong screen presence. He performs well with Idris Elba, whose reserved and silent power is embodied well, and he also has a great command for the screen. There are fantastic standout scenes between the two which are emotional and heartfelt.
Kevin Mately’s wonderful score is also a highlight of the film, which presents an inspiring sound combining the Wild West and soulful textures which are uplifting as well as devastating. It is a stunning achievement from the composer and adds much gravitas to the movie.
Concrete Cowboy is a strong coming of age drama with a Western twist that offers a thought-provoking look into Black American urban culture. The film has lovely direction and great performances all around; although it dips often due to its slow pace, this is still a solid movie for Netflix’s growing catalogue.
Concrete Cowboys (2021) Trailer: