A Slow-Paced But Cathartic Western
Like taming a wild animal, Concrete Cowboy is a film that requires a lot of patience. If you can accept that, this slow-burn modern Western serves up a cathartic and thought provoking picture well worth checking out.
In its simplest form, Concrete Cowboy is a story about a Father and son mending their estranged relationship through the world of urban horseback riding. Our protagonist here is Cole, who’s uprooted from his life after getting in trouble one too many times. With his Mother at wit’s end, she drives him off to Harp’s house, deep in the heart of North Philadelphia.
After meeting up with old friend Smush, Cole finds himself torn between the life he knows and the unknown road that lies ahead with his Father. All of this builds up to a climactic third act where emotions spill out and both Cole and Harp’s fate are sealed.
This essentially forms the crux of this story but Concrete Cowboy extends far beyond that simplicity to layer in some beautiful juxtapositions and thought provoking ideas. Smush and his life of crime, complete with hip hop music, parties and late-night drives represent everything that’s familiar to Cole.
By comparison, Harp’s jazzy music and tight-knit community, huddled around outdoor campfires, represent a more free-spirited, idealistic life. This is, of course, completely alienating to young Cole who has a serious chip on his shoulder.
Across the movie though, that chip slowly starts to melt away as Cole embraces this new way of living and contemplates what to do with his life.
The decision to include horseback riding in the middle of this conflict is certainly not by accident. For those unaware, horses generally represent freedom without restraint; exactly what Cole should be striving for in his life.
I mentioned it before but Concrete Cowboy peppers in some wonderfully cathartic moments here that feel really rewarding and emotionally-driven. One particular favourite includes Cole riding his new troublesome horse, Boo.
The images here are backdropped by a brilliant, blood-red sunset while Cole and Boo are completely bathed in darkness. It’s a wonderful bit of imagery, and one that’s matched by some clever camera work and framing (one scene shows Smush and Cole in different rooms, bathed in alternate colours with a dividing door frame down the middle.)
These moments do make the film that much more artistic, backing up the notion that this is more of an introspective picture than some may be expecting.
This is not an action-packed, adrenaline-soaked Western. It’s not even a tense cat and mouse chase like other modern Westerns. Instead, this film ripples faint echoes of movies like Good Will Hunting, channeling that idea of grinding down and changing oneself over time through the company we keep.
Concrete Cowboy is not perfect, and at times the movie does drag on a little – especially during the middle portion of the run-time. The storyline itself is rather cliched too but this Netflix Original is certainly an enjoyable picture. If you can go into this with a bit of patience, Concrete Cowboy rewards you with a decent – albeit bumpy – ride.