Thursday, April 1, 2021

A story about real urban cowboys


     These cowboys ride and tend horses. In the evening, they crack open a few beers, sit around campfires, and exchange stories. 
    Cliches, of course, but they assume new meaning when you realize that the cowboys in question maintain their lifestyle in the streets of North Philadelphia.
    In some respects, Concrete Cowboy can seem dismayingly familiar, mostly because the movie has been built around standard coming-of-age tropes. 
    The story: A frustrated mom sends her uncontrollable son (Caleb McLaughlin) to live with his tough-love father (Idris Elba) who happens to be an ex-con.
    Although director Ricky Staub's drama hardly can be considered groundbreaking, the movie derives freshness from its setting and from the inclusion of real-life members of Philadelphia's Fletcher Street stables.
    Elba, who also served as one of the movie's producers, creates a stoic but caring father, and McLaughlin embodies the confusion of a troubled kid with lots of anger.
     Once deposited with his father, McLaughlin's Cole takes up with a drug-dealing cousin (Jharrel Jerome), a character who sharpens the clash between street hustling and cowboy values.
     Much of the movie deals with Cole's indoctrination into horse culture, an initiation that includes mucking stalls and other dirty work. He also bonds with a difficult horse, becoming the only human the horse will tolerate.
     Before seeing Concrete Cowboy I knew nothing about these Philadelphia horse enthusiasts.  When the real cowboys are swapping stories or talking about the derivation of the word "cowboy," the movie most clearly shatters the formula that sometimes burdens it.*
*Concrete Cowboy is a Netflix film, viewable at

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