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I lost count of the number of movies I've watched completely blind to any prior information. Concrete Cowboy is the most recent addition to that list. Ricky Staub and Dan Walser make their debuts as director and screenwriter of a feature film, respectively. From the synopsis alone, I expected some sort of variation of the formulaic coming-of-age story, which in this case takes a rebellious kid back to his father who lives far, far away from the everyday city lifestyle. Not even twenty minutes into the narrative, and it's quite easy to anticipate everything that's going to happen. From character development to specific plot points, it's a generic screenplay that holds no surprises.
However, Staub offers a solid directorial debut that elevates the entire movie, demonstrating talent behind the camera. Most importantly, Staub shows a remarkable commitment to a project that never lost the director's clear vision of the story he wanted to tell. This leads me to the only production element that actually made me open my eyes a little bit more upon its revelation. I knew that this film was based on a novel, but I didn't realize that real-life Philadelphia cowboys starred in the movie - information stamped wide and clear in the trailers. The end credits - don't forget to watch these after the film finishes - offer short interviews with the non-actors, which feel heartwarming and genuine.
Listening to these people talk about their love for horses and the continuous fight to keep the stables for themselves gives a whole other layer to previous interactions in the movie with the actual actors/characters. Besides, I now understand and forgive the fact that some scenes featuring non-actors feel a bit bland. Idris Elba plays the father role extremely well, but Caleb McLaughlin - 19-years-old already - steals the spotlight with an emotionally powerful performance that demanded more from him physically than expected. His character follows the usual arc of a young teen who needs to learn important life lessons through hard work and tough love. Everyone else offers decent displays, but the cast doesn't overcome the real issues with the film.
An uninteresting, cliche drug business subplot drags the entire movie, gradually and negatively affecting the film's already slow pacing. Throughout the runtime, the viewers are constantly moved from the main storyline to this side narrative that doesn't even impact the outcome of the movie, partially removing impact from subsequent plot points. Walser's screenplay follows a generic storytelling method, relying heavily on the cast's ability to give more energy to each scene, which doesn't occur often. Technically, Minka Farthing-Kohl's cinematography adds to the murky aesthetic, but the camera work is a tad too shaky for my taste. Luke Ciarrocchi's editing could be better - many choppy transitions from scene to scene. Sweet score from Kevin Matley.
Concrete Cowboy holds a formulaic, unsurprising coming-of-age story that could have been more captivating had it focused on the main narrative. For the millionth time, a cliche subplot involving a drug business negatively impacts the film's purposefully steady pacing, as well as the overall interest in the primary storyline. Nevertheless, Ricky Staub proves to be a committed director with a clear vision, bringing real-life Philadelphia cowboys to the movie, who added much-needed authenticity. Caleb McLaughlin is outstanding as a generic yet compelling young protagonist, while Idris Elba plays the demanding father role well. Despite some issues with some choppy editing and shaky camera work, it's an overall well-produced Netflix flick to watch during the weekend.