Ricky Staub understands that the big draw of Concrete Cowboy is Idris Elba on a horse, and it’s a subject he films with loving care. It works excellently, with the many shots of the Fletcher Street Riders against the Philadelphia cityscape making for some rapturous visual filmmaking. The story itself is fairly familiar — a father/son yarn about overcoming differences and making peace with your history – but the performances are so exquisite and the setting so beautifully lived-in that it all has an appealing freshness.
The son is Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame, who rises admirably to the challenge of breaking away from a role that has defined him since before he could legally drive. The fact that he isn’t completely overshadowed by Elba’s weary but nevertheless magnetic Harp is a testament to his own energy. But the movie belongs to Elba, who remains one of our most electrifying talents. He’s a little removed, a little mischievous and mines remarkable delivery out of the simplest of lines. Elba is so good that he is often better than his movie, but he meets this one’s vibe squarely on its own terms and the result is never dull.
More than that, it’s never insipid. This is a movie that understands the cinematic appeal of a bond between a horse and a man, but fully believes in the emotional necessity of a bond between fathers and sons, people and communities. It takes these things seriously, meaning that no matter how interesting the shots of Elba riding horses through the city are, the movie’s true strength is its humanity. You can watch it on Netflix now.
Here are a few other movies new to streaming worth your time.
Slalom: This made waves in France before coming to U.S. with a vital, if deeply uncomfortable, topic for both countries: abuse in the world of sports. When a young ski prodigy is taken under the wing of a legendary coach, how does she grapple with her dawning understanding that his mentorship is predatory? (Now streaming on Amazon Prime)
We Don’t Deserve Dogs: A winsome documentary about the bond between man and dog that goes an extra step, showcasing the different ways that bond plays out in different cultures all over the world, from Uganda to Scotland to Istanbul. (Now streaming on Amazon Prime)