TIFF 2020: Concrete Cowboy

Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is a teen who keeps getting into trouble. His mom is fed up with Cole’s behavior, so she packs him in the car, driving from Detroit to Philidelphia to live with his father, Harp (Idris Elba). Harp is a cowboy on Philidelphia’s Fletcher St, known as the home to a long tradition of Black cowboys. Cole is defiant since he doesn’t know his father, and when he runs into his childhood friend Smush (Jharrel Jerome), they start hanging out together despite Harp’s disapproval. As Cole learns the ways of the cowboys on Fletcher St., he begins to like the life and befriends a wild horse named Boo. When Smush wants to include Cole in his plans to make fast money on another drug dealer’s turf and leave, Cole must make a choice of the new life he loves and a new relationship with his estranged father, or move in the world of dangerous high stakes.

Director Ricky Staub and his writing partner Dan Walser take real-like cowboys living in the North end of Philidelphia and put their lives on the big screen. They are proud and love this rural tradition in the big city, and it’s a great thing to see. McLaughlin grows up from the cute Stranger Things kid into a confident performer, and Elba smolders as per usual. I usually love Jerome, who wears his heart on his sleeve when he performs, but his character seemed flatly written and predictable. I would have preferred seeing him in a different light than the typical good kid gone bad route, but Method Man is really good as the cowboy turned cop Leroy and brings energy to the story.

The plot is predictable, too, with the feel of a crunchier afterschool special, but there are some worthwhile emotional moments, and it still honors the people of Fletcher St. and their equine charges. Viewers should stay for the end credits where the actors who are a part of Fletcher St. talk about their lives. It makes the film more poignant and boosts its credibility by including the real people of that community.

Check out the Toronto International Film Festival from Sep 10-20, 2020.

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