It’s hard not to wonder what will happen to any of the kids who star in Stranger Things, Netflix’s most popular original show of all-time, once the series concludes. We already know that Millie Bobby Brown is on her way there, having starred in some higher profile movies since audiences got to know her as Eleven. And while I don’t doubt that she might go on to have a successful film career, I do think Caleb McLaughlin is starting to make a case for how good an actor he could be in the future with Netflix’s Concrete Cowboy. Nowhere is the boy wonder charm we see him as Lucas in Stranger Things. With Concrete Cowboy, comes a mature McLaughlin, who helps steer things in this mostly engaging drama about urban cowboys in Philadelphia.
Concrete Cowboy tells the story about a teenage boy, Cole (McLaughlin), sent from Detroit to Philadelphia to live with his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba) after getting in trouble at school. At first Cole is reluctant to have any association with his father, as he notices his father and other individuals spend their days as cowboys tending to horses in an urban area in the City of Brotherly Love. You may never have heard of this type of thing. Horsemanship in the inner-city? I’m sure many people, like myself, didn’t know something like this existed; it’s based on a fictionalization of the Fletcher Street Stables, a non-profit centered around horsemanship in inner-city Philadelphia. Throw in the father/son elements and it makes for an intriguing, modern-day concept. When the movie focuses on Cole learning lessons from his father and colleagues, the movie gallops. But when it stops to focus on a subplot that easily could have been cut, the movie falters.
While Idris Elba is billed as the main star of this Ricky Staub-directed movie (and he’s good, as always), Caleb McLaughlin really takes the reins of this drama. Most TV actors have a difficult time making the jump to movies because they simply can’t break, or stop, people from thinking of them as a character from another familiar property in which he is most known. But McLaughlin shows his versatility as a young actor, finding his footing outside his currently iconic role in Concrete Cowboy. Where McLaughlin goes from here, I’m not sure. But seeing him here puts him on the radar for me in terms of what to watch for in whatever he stars in soon.
Concrete Cowboy is a standard, but fascinating coming-of-age drama. No, it won’t transcend anything or lead to much discussion, other than possibly the non-profit it’s loosely based on. But with this, I hope people see Caleb McLaughlin for the actor he currently is and what he could become with more movies like this in his saddlebags. It’s exciting to see an actor like this, who is not the main star of a hit TV series, break out in something like this. Let’s hope this is the first great stride in the 19-year-old’s movie career.
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