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TIFF 2020 Review: Concrete Cowboy

Expelled from yet another school for fighting, Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is taken to live with his estranged father (Idris Elba) who lives in a Philadelphia neighbourhood that has an affinity for looking after and riding horses.

As the opening credits roll over a black screen a phone call is heard where a school principal calls the mother of Cole telling that her son has been expelled for fighting.  Out of frustration and desperation, she takes her protesting son to live with his father.  It is a strange world as horses seem to be more prominent than cars so much so that Cole co-habits a house with one; he is also reunited with a childhood friend who is making a living as a drug dealer.

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The opening phone call is a quick and effective way to get the story started as within minutes Cole finds himself transported from Detroit to Philadelphia.  There are two stories that are intercut.  Cole having to adapt to the urban cowboy lifestyle and the possibility that he might be lured into a life of crime.  There is an inspirational moment that is a callback to Dead Poets Society which does not have the same emotional punch.  A much earlier sequence where a character portrayed by real-life Fletcher Street rider Jamil “Mil” Prattis is placed upon a horse was way more effective even though it felt rushed.

The performances of Caleb McLaughlin and Idris Elba are creditable and relatable as their onscreen relationship evolves.  Some imagery cleverly looks like it was shot out on the Western frontier but is in fact within an urban environment.  The threat and execution of violence is done in a manner that properly respects the tone of the movie.  Here is to hoping that fast-forwarding the imagery to display the mental state of a character and for making scenes more kinetic does not become an editing trend.  It is way too distracting.  What was refreshing is filmmaker Ricky Staub focusing on the social dynamics within the Black community rather than framing everything around the Black and White racial conflict.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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