Streaming today on Netflix is the feature directorial debut of Ricky Straub, CONCRETE COWBOY, starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin. Shot on location in my hometown, and more specifically the Strawberry Mansion section of my old North Philadelphia neighborhood, I was eagerly awaiting this to screen, and it did not disappoint.
The film tells the story of Cole (McLaughlin) who, after a school expulsion, is sent by his frustrated mother Amahle (Liz Priestly) to live with his estranged father Harp (Idris Elba) – a former inmate who now rehabilitates horses at Fletcher Street Stables, a real-life urban horsemanship community that has existed for more than 100 years. Hoping to dissuade his son from going down the same roads he’s traveled, Harp attempts to keep Cole from re-establishing a relationship with his cousin Smush (Jharrel Jerome), a drug dealer with dreams of a better life and dangerous plans to obtain it. With the stables facing eviction due to increasing gentrification, Cole becomes immersed in their culture, while learning lessons on responsibility, friendship, and confronting the barriers between he and Harp’s father-son relationship.
With solid turns by its entire main cast that included Cliff “Method Man” Smith – who portrays Leroy, a police officer who is also part of the culture – Lorraine Toussaint as nurturing neighbor Nessie, and surprisingly good performances from several real Fletcher Street Stables riders, the film hits most of the marks it sets out.
And Priestley’s performance as Cole’s mother Amahle deserves a nod. Although her bookend appearances are short in the film, both are powerful displays of a mother’s love and the sacrifice she’s willing to make for her child.
However, script wise, I wish Harp’s character were flushed out a bit more because, just like Cole, he definitely had room for growth that needed to be addressed. Maybe his story is better developed in Greg Neri’s book “Ghetto Cowboy” on which the film is based, but there were things – like his financial stability and the lack that Cole mentions while staying with him – that just didn’t seem to be fully addressed by the end.
A simple coming of age tale, that’s so gorgeously shot familiar spots to me appeared new, “Concrete Cowboy” succeeds in presenting both a bittersweet and heartwarming story, and the rich sub-culture of the Urban Black Cowboy. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
In addition to screening the film, I chatted briefly last Tuesday with director/co-writer Ricky Staub and star Caleb McLaughlin about “Concrete Cowboy” and their experiences while filming. You can watch the interview below and checkout the film now streaming on Netflix.
Until next thought, Thomasena