Review: ‘Concrete Cowboy’ Is a Joyous and Heartfelt Must-Watch


Concrete Cowboy has arrived on Netflix, and this is one ride you won’t want to miss. The film follows 15-year-old Cole (Caleb McLaughlin), who’s sent to live with his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba), in North Philadelphia. While there, Cole discovers the city’s rich and vibrant cowboy subculture that has provided a safe haven from the neighborhood’s violence, poverty, and fast approaching gentrification. The movie is based on the book Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and inspired by the real-life Fletcher Street Stables.

One of the main standout aspects of the film is that it wastes no time introducing its inciting incident and bringing Cole and viewers to North Philadelphia. Cole’s background is established right from the beginning; viewers learn about his struggle to avoid altercations at school, as well the general relationship with his mother. When he arrives at Harp’s, his reaction to the new environment suggests he’s used to a more upkept, roomier, and comfortable home — and a stocked fridge. As characters are introduced, viewers also learn that Cole used to live in North Philly when he was younger.

Cole is introduced as a teen who’s stubborn and full of anger, and as the film progresses, he demonstrates incredible growth. Through the entirety of the film, Cole is also given the chance to display his more vulnerable and emotional side in a well-written way, something Black boys and men aren’t often provided in media. The movie offers a rounded glimpse at Cole. Viewers get to watch him learn to work with the other riders at the stables, as well as see him in a completely different environment when he’s with Smush.

Caleb McLaughlin shines as Cole. He brings a powerful and emotional performance to the screen, presenting each side of the multi-faceted character with skill and grace. Idris Elba brings an equally strong performance starring opposite as Harp. The two complement each other perfectly, offering a father-son duo that feels natural and will tug at viewers’ hearts.  They are surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast who help solidify the environment of the stables. It was delightful to watch their camaraderie translate to the screen. Each person helps create a dynamic that will make it easy for viewers to root for these characters.

It’s also worth noting the significance of the all-Black group of cowboys in this film. What many people may not know is that many of the first cowboys were Black (don’t listen to all of those Westerns) — something that also comes up in the movie. Bringing Black cowboys to the screen not only reminds viewers of that history but also makes the movie all the more impactful. The film also brings in real-life riders from the Fletcher Street Stables, adding an extra dose of authenticity.

Concrete Cowboy is an emotional ride worth taking. It boasts a powerhouse cast that quickly draws viewers in. The vibrant cowboy subculture at the heart of the film is very much that — the heart — in every way. Other elements such as the score and cinematography continue to pull viewers into the story and don’t let go. Concrete Cowboy brings a rich history and story that must be experienced.

Concrete Cowboy is streaming now on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.

Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.

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