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film review

Idris Elba, left, and Caleb McLaughlin in Netflix's Concrete Cowboy.Courtesy of TIFF

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  • Concrete Cowboy
  • Directed by Ricky Staub
  • Written by Ricky Staub and Dan Walser
  • Starring Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin and Method Man
  • Classification R; 101 minutes

Idris Elba rides a horse. What more can you people ask for? In his adaptation of Greg Neri’s novel, first-time director Ricky Staub explores a little-known American subculture – Black horse trainers in urban cities such as North Philadelphia – and uses the world as a background for a compelling, if ultimately predictable, coming-of-age drama.

At the heart of the story is 15-year-old Cole (Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin, impressive when free of that series’ 1980s trappings), who after being expelled from his Detroit high school is sent packing to Philly. It’s there where Cole must learn to bond with his estranged father Harp (Elba), who is far more attached to his horses than his son.

Temptations of the drug trade and ne’er-do-well friends (including Moonlight’s Jharrel Jerome) follow Cole through the streets and stables, but so does the strong sense of community built around Harp’s operation. Five minutes into Concrete Cowboy, and you already know where the story is heading. But you won’t mind moseying on down the familiar narrative, either.

Concrete Cowboy is available to stream on Netflix starting April 2.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.