Some films have good intentions. However, good intentions do not always equate to good filmmaking. Concrete Cowboy, the much-discussed Netflix film about Black cowboys and their erasure from American history, is so full of righteous indignation that it loses objectivity and becomes clogged with disjointed feelings about socio-political justice.
In the end, I believe the audience has been treated unfairly. Concrete Cowboy is neither a social commentary nor a human drama, so we feel cheated. It’s just a haphazard aspirational mix of the two that, in the end, is neither. I have no doubts about the intentions of director Ricky Staub and his co-writers.
This film’s heart is definitely in the right place. After making peace with its conscience, the film uses the most common clichés from films about Black racial prejudices and obstacles. The end result has an oddly sterile and disempowered feel to it. Then there’s the historical baggage. Every one of these social dramas must feature a young heroine who is a drug dealer and ends up in a sticky situation. Smush (Jharel Jerome) is the character here, and he appears to have a negative influence on our protagonist Cole (Caleb McLaughlin).
If you’re a fan of Idris Elba, now is as good a time as any to warn you that this is not the film for you. Despite being a co-producer, Idris is barely present in the story. His estranged wife is the centre of attention. The focus is on his estranged son, Caleb McLaughlin, who is played with emotional heft by his troubled mother, who dumps him at his father’s doorstep with his clothes stuffed in polythene bags.
Idris Elba, the father, does not appear to be particularly attached to his son. He also makes no attempt to reach out to the traumatized adolescent. This, I believe, is a fatal scriptural flaw, as it leaves the father-son relationship so undeveloped that the narrative appears to be completely derailed by its haste to get to the point.
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