'Concrete Cowboy' With Idris Elba Coming to Netflix in April

Concrete Cowboy, the Idris Elba movie about urban cowboys in North Philadelphia, sold to Netflix after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Now it finally has a release date: April 2. Inspired by a true story, the film follows a teenager (Stranger Things actor Caleb McLaughlin) who moves from Detroit to Philadelphia to live with his estranged father (Elba). There he discovers that his dad is part of a neighborhood community that cares for horses.

In Concrete Cowboy, “when fifteen-year-old Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is expelled from school in Detroit, he is sent to North Philadelphia to live with Harp (Idris Elba), his estranged father. Harp finds solace in rehabilitating horses for inner-city cowboys at the Fletcher Street Stables, a real-life Black urban horsemanship community that has provided a safe haven for the neighborhood residents for more than 100 years. Torn between his growing respect for his father’s community and his reemerging friendship with troubled cousin Smush (Jharrel Jerome), Cole begins to reprioritize his life as the stables themselves are threatened by encroaching gentrification.”

The movie is inspired by the novel Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri, which in turn is based on the real-life community of Black horsemanship in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood located east of Fairmount Park in North Philadelphia. The pic comes from first-time feature filmmaker Ricky Staub, with a script by Staub and Dan Wasler. The cast also includes Byron Bowers, Lorraine Toussaint, Clifford “Method Man” Smith, and members of the real Fletcher Street Stables.

I caught Concrete Cowboy at TIFF last year, and while it didn’t exactly blow me away, it had its moments. There are some script issues here (it’s ultimately a pretty predictable story), but the performances elevate things. As I wrote in my review:

Then there are the performances. McLaughlin, so underused on Stranger Things, shows real acting chops here, playing Cole as someone struggling to throw the chip off his shoulder. A moment where he finally breaks down, emotional over his emotional estrangement from his father, is raw and real. Elba is just as good, finally finding a great role to suit his talents that have been thus far somewhat wasted by Hollywood. Harp is distant from Cole, but he’s not mean, and when he finally thaws a bit and shows the boy some warmth, it’s stirring…Still, the script keeps tripping over itself, and there are several scenes – such as a horse heist – that feel a bit bungled, and almost forced – as if someone, somewhere, complained that there wasn’t enough action in the movie. But every time Concrete Cowboy is in danger of succumbing to these problems, it pulls itself back with some surprises. One of Staub’s best ideas is to cast real Fletcher Street natives, including the superb Jamil “Mil” Prattis as the wheelchair-bound Paris, who takes Cole under his wing and teaches him the fine art of shoveling horse shit.

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