Sent to live with his estranged father Harp (Idris Elba) for the summer, a rebellious teenager named Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) finds kinship in a tight-knit Philadelphia community of Black cowboys.
Ricky Staub’s Concrete Cowboy is a movie that started off a bit rocky. For a long while, it genuinely felt like it had no sense of direction and it was quite difficult to tell where he wanted to take this story. Is this a coming-of-age movie or is this a straight-up drama or maybe even a dark comedy?
However, once the first thirty minutes or so are out of the way, it is clear that Concrete Cowboy is not only a beautiful mix of coming-of-age comedy-drama, but it’s also an emotionally charged story of a teenager who doesn’t fit it anywhere finding his purpose in the world and finding who his closest allies are. But on top of that, it also tells a touching story of a group of cowboys living in Philadelphia and riding horses, and we get to see how much this means to them.
A lot of people will look at that and think “there aren’t any cowboys living in Philadelphia that ride horses” but that’s not actually true. As a matter of fact, a lot of the main cast members in this movie are members of this cowboy group living in Philadelphia, and not only do they deliver excellent performances, but they are the heart and soul of this movie.
As soon as you see how passionate they are about this lifestyle and why they fell in love with it in the first place, you too will feel an emotional attachment. I’ve only ever ridden a horse one or two times in my life, but after watching Concrete Cowboy, I have a much deeper appreciation for cowboys and it also made me want to go horseback riding again. It’s hard not to have a big smile on your face during a lot of this film.
But this is also a film that is not afraid to get gritty and dark with some of its subject matter. One scene in particular during the final thirty minutes took me by complete surprise and left me in pure shock. There are a handful of deeply emotional and heart-wrenching sequences sprinkled throughout this film that is shocking but they never feel like they are there purely for shock value.
Caleb McLaughlin of Stranger Things fame leads the cast of the film and proves that he is capable of being so much more than Lucas in the hit Netflix show. Here, he delivers his most emotional and powerful performance to date as Cole, a kid that doesn’t really have the best home life and has to find his footing and discover who he is. His journey is one that is deeply engrossing to follow as well as beautiful.
Idris Elba delivers yet another terrific performance as Harp, Cole’s father whom Cole feels isn’t always there for him when he needs him the most. Their dynamic is certainly rocky, but watching them work out their differences was touching to watch. Elba and McLaughlin’s chemistry is a thing of beauty.
And honestly, the film in general is a thing of beauty. Its cinematography by Minka Farthing-Kohl is warm and inviting when it wants to be, but when the film needs to be gritty and disturbing, Farthing-Kohl makes it look easy. You can feel the subtle change in the atmosphere every time.
The first act is a bit tough to get through and it’s not an absolute game-changer for the industry, but it doesn’t need to be. All Concrete Cowboy needed to be was a touching and uplifting film and that’s exactly what it is.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug use, and some violence
Directed by: Ricky Staub
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: April 2, 2021
Running Time: 111 minutes