Guest Reviewer: Jerry Ludwig, retired Hollywood screenwriter and author of The Black List
Concrete Cowboy: Two words that don’t go together. But an apt title for this new movie streaming on Netflix. The words collide because it’s about two wildly different worlds. A classic Western tale of father-son redemption told in the shadow of the mean streets of a contemporary Big City. Happens to be a real story.
Cole (Caleb McLaughlin from “Stranger Things”) is a troubled teenager whose mother sees him going down the tubes in crime-wrecked Detroit. So she ships him off for the summer to her ex-husband Harp (Idris Elba, “The Wire,” “Luther”) in Philadelphia. Problem is Cole doesn’t know his father. His parents divorced when he was an infant. And this isn’t Ben Franklin’s Liberty Bell Philadelphia – this is a little known backwater where a small group known as the Fletcher Street Riders live, mostly in the past, but hoping for a future. Constantly threatened, once these rented stables surrounding a meadow were considered the Boonies, but now land developers covet the area for condos.
Cole feels trapped in a tiny house where his father’s horse is stabled in the living room. And Harp’s friends all seem just as weird. A culture that breeds and trains horses for racing and riding and to keep alive a tradition? Gradually the mystique of the old ways envelops him, evenings spent sitting around the fire barrel, swapping lies and legends. Learning new skills. But there’s also the counter-pull of his young friend Smursh (Jharel Jerome) who used to be one of the Riders but now is peddling street-corner drugs as a ticket to the big bucks.
There are many reasons a movie gets made. I suspect the additional credit of Idris Elba as not only star but also producer propelled Concrete Cowboy into existence. Also the presence of Lee Daniels (“Empire,” The U.S. vs. Billie Holiday) does much to recommend the movie, which was co-written and directed by Ricky Staub. Like the recent Nomadland, many of the characters are played by their real-life counterparts. Together they tell a truthful but not bloody story. It’s not simple, but it manages to find a somewhat positive ending. It’s worth watching.
Availability: Netflix streaming