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Concrete Cowboy Is A Trotting Bore

Concrete  Cowboy(Netflix)

Starring Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin, Jharrel Jerome, Byron Bowers, Lorraine Toussaint

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Directed by Ricky Staub

Rating: **

Some   films  mean well.  But  good  intentions don’t always  make good cinema. Concrete Cowboy ,that much talked-about film about Netflix  film  about   Black cowboys  and their  obliteration from America’s history , is  so  full of righteous indignation it loses objectivity and  ends up  clogged with disconnected  emotions  on  socio-political  justice.

  In the end  I felt the one most unjustly  treated  is  the audience. We feel short-changed because Concrete Cowboy is neither social comment  nor human drama.  Just a tentative  aspirational  mixture of  both which  in sum total is neither. I don’t  doubt  the  director Ricky Staub and his co-writer’s intentions. This film most definitely has  its heart  in the right place. Once having made peace with its conscience, the film moves on to employ the most common clichés from movies  about Black racial prejudices and  obstacles.The end-result feels  strangely  sterile  and  disempowered.

Then there is the baggage of history. Every  one  of these  social dramas has to have a young protagonist who is  a  drug dealer and who comes to sticky death. Here it is Smush(Jharel Jerome) who we gather,  is  not  a good influence on   our protagonist  Cole(Caleb McLaughlin).

This is  as  good a time as  any to let you know that if you are a fan of  Idris Elba this is not the  film to  expect  much from. Though a  co-producer,  Idris is  scarcely part of the narrative. The  focus is on his estranged son, played with emotional heft by Caleb McLaughlin  whose  troubled mother dumps him at his father’s doorstep with his clothes stuffed in polythene bags.

Father Idris Elba  doesn’t seem  too attached to his son. Nor does he make any effort  to reach out to the  traumatized  boy. This , I think, is fatal scriptural flaw,rendering the father-son relationship so  half-sketched that  the  narrative seems  completely derailed by its  haste to  get on with the story.

But what is it?! What is  this  film trying to say?  I  understand these black cowboys in Philadelphia  feel they have been  misjudged and misrepresented. There is a bonfire  conversation about the John Wayne  type of Wild West depiction  in  Hollywood cinema. Have we ever seen any film about a  black cowboy?  Well,this is not the one  about their lives,  except when we see a horse parked  in Idris Elba’s  living room, or when   the cowboys  are  out in the  parking lot  trying to  harness horses.

Where is  the  father-son story that we  were promised at  the start? Maybe Idris was to hassled as  a producer  to give  time to his  character Harp which remains skimpy  to the end. During one  elaborately staged  sequence he urges his son Cole to get an agitated  horse under control. Nothing that came  before this sequence hinted that Cole had developed that  level of confident  kinship with horses, or that  Harp had earned  the right of  ownership  over his  son  to  make such a  dangerous demand.

Concrete  Cowboy doesn’t lack in  good intentions. But it  sorely misses out on solid emotions.It  is  devoid of  a concentrated energy, its dramatic  centre  running  all over the plot like  an  out-of-control  horse.

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