TIFF 2020: Concrete Cowboy Review

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to keep up with our latest coverage, click here.

Coming-of-age stories are a timeless subgenre that are always going to be a thing. They appeal to audiences’ collective upbringings as the best films elicit deep emotional connections as they relate to the stories being told. On the other side of that, many films are often retreads of the same plot and emotional beats, hoping to create those same connections. When they work, they really work. Otherwise, they just come off as overly familiar and predictable and that connection isn’t there as a result. Concrete Cowboy is another film along those lines that did have some compelling moments but that deeper story unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle within a story that simply tries to do too much.

Concrete Cowboy tells the story of a troubled teenager named Cole (McLaughlin) who was forced to move in with his estranged father Harp (Elba) in Philadelphia. Things did not start well with Cole to say the least as he would have to acclimate himself in a new environment that he did not want to be in. He would soon learn that he was now part of a dwindling community of urban horseback riders known in real life as the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club (the film features real life riders) for which his father was a prominent figure. While he was considered a father to that community, he was arguably not much of a father for Cole. Nevertheless, though Cole struggled to find a place for himself, taking some questionable turns along the way, the final result was inevitable.

However, the emotional impact of Concrete Cowboy gets lost in its overstuffed story. Despite this, the film still had its moments and it all worked thanks to its performances with Elba and McLaughlin leading the way as Harp and Cole respectively and it was beautiful to look at. While Elba unsurprisingly got top billing here, he ended up delivering a solid performance, though one that took a little while to get going, in what was McLaughlin’s film. The latter certainly did not disappoint, delivering a star-making turn as the troubled teen, pulling audiences into his journey and pain albeit a familiar one.

At the end of the day, Concrete Cowboy is another familiar coming-of-age story but one with a true life element whose performances do enough to make it worth the watch.

still courtesy of TIFF

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