[TIFF 2020] CONCRETE COWBOY -- A Standard Coming-of-Age Story Inspired by a Fascinating Real-Life Subculture
Review by Sean Boelman
Ricky Staub’s feature debut Concrete Cowboy is the type of film that sounds like it should be a massive hit on paper: a talented star in a prominent supporting role, a great up-and-comer in the lead, and a unique real-life inspiration. But despite all these bits of potential, it simply doesn’t come together into something compelling.
The movie follows a teenager who gets drawn into the urban cowboy subculture when he moves in with his estranged father. And while the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is fascinating and should make for a very interesting film, Staub and his co-writer Dan Walser don’t make anything more out of it than a rather conventional coming-of-age story.
There are plenty of movies about troubled teens exploring unique subcultures, and in fact, there’s even a much better one coming out next month, but there has to be something personal to a film like this to make it stand out beyond the initial intrigue of its premise. And here, the movie just doesn’t do enough to feel distinctive.
The protagonist’s arc is frustratingly obvious. It seems that in films about unusual identities (in this case the urban rider), the lead is forced to choose between their newfound passion and a life of crime. The fluctuations between these two callings are almost always predictable, and this is no exception.
And in terms of the supporting characters, they are little more than vehicles to spew vaguely metaphorical and shallowly wise dialogue for the protagonist to come to understand as he experiences life in his own way. It’s not a very interesting approach at all, and it gets dull after about thirty minutes of the movie’s hour-and-fifty-minute runtime.
Caleb McLaughlin (of Stranger Things fame) is excellent in his lead role, proving that he deserves something more meaty and substantial. As always, Idris Elba is phenomenal, delivering his dialogue (or more like failed attempts at poetry) in a way that is often moving. Jharrel Jerome also makes an appearance but is sorely underused.
Staub takes a very matter-of-fact approach to filmmaking, shooting the film in an almost documentary-like style. And while this definitely heightens its sense of realism and authenticity, it also feels cold and creates a disconnect. With some added energy, this easily could have overcome its substandard script.
Concrete Cowboy is definitely a bit of a let down. There are some good moments and lots of talented people involved, but unfortunately, it ends up feeling dead-on-arrival because of its conventional script.
Concrete Cowboy screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which ran September 10-19.