Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy is an intriguing concept about a niche subculture in northern Philadelphia, but a feature that would have been far more effective as a straight-up documentary than an uneventful drama that struggles to maintain any sense of momentum.
Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin star as an estranged father-son duo, with Cole (McLaughlin) forced to live with his father after being expelled from school. Cole is thrown into work at the city’s stables, whilst trying to reconnect with a former friend, bad influence ‘Smush’ (Jharrel Jerome).
McLaughlin is great in his role, and shows he is meant for more than just Stranger Things. But the greatest performances in this feature come from the supporting cast – played by genuine ‘concrete cowboys’ from Philadelphia.
The story is very paint-by-numbers, quite honestly after reading a plot synopsis you can see exactly where this movie is going to go. Troubled boy gets sent to his father’s ‘ranch’; will he be tempted by a life of drugs and gangs or will he learn to love the lifestyle of the concrete cowboys?! Who knows, it’s anyone’s guess! (Literally all of you know.)
A predictable plot is further hampered by the fact the entire movie is just so dry and serious. There’s so much potential for Staub to pepper a little fun on top – there’s a horse that lives inside Idris Elba’s house, for goodness sake – the comedy is right there waiting to liven things up, and it stays untouched. There’s nothing wrong with a serious movie, of course, but even The Father‘s heartbreaking tale of the struggles of dementia had me laughing at times and kept me engaged, unlike Concrete Cowboy.
It’s unfortunate that the most interesting part of Concrete Cowboy is the credits sequence – in which the actual riders give short interviews about their lives and how riding has effected them, kept them out of trouble, and inspired them. This only lasts a couple of minutes, and leaves you wanting to hear more. A feature-length documentary would have told a better, likely more surprising story than Concrete Cowboy ultimately delivers.