The never-aging Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin have partnered up for an urban western (as in, howdy, partner). Based off of the real-life Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, Concrete Cowboy tells the story of Cole (McLaughlin), who moves in with his estranged father Harp (Elba) in north Philadelphia and discovers the world of horseback riding. Jharrel Jerome, Byron Bowers, and Lorraine Toussaint also star, and Ricky Staub makes his feature film directorial debut with the drama.
Concrete Cowboy doesn't debut on Netflix until this Friday, April 2, but critics have started releasing their reviews.
Our own Eric Eisenberg saw the western drama for the CinemaBlend team, and rated it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. He points out that the movie does include familiar plot points, but effectively avoids falling into a trap of cliches and provides real depth. Some of that depth stems from the authenticity of the film (real Fletcher Street Riding Club members are included in the cast). Eisenberg said:
Concrete Cowboy not only pulls a lot narratively from the coming-of-age genre, but also westerns - but even when you can piece together where the whole thing is going it still draws you in with its specific aesthetic. As many times as we’ve seen these kinds of stories, they feel fresh and presented in a new light here that makes them feel special, and it’s actually compelling to see the way everything properly dovetails.
Vanity Fair’s Katey Rich also acknowledged the film’s similarities to “familiar beats of the horse tale,” but she appreciated that the film pays tribute to the very real Black horse culture in North Philadelphia, the Fletcher Street Riding Club, which has been historically overlooked. Rich said:
But the plot is not really the main point. The people of Fletcher Street—many of them, like Mercedes and Jamil “Mil” Prattis, giving remarkably good performances in supporting roles—are the real draw, along with the film’s conscious efforts to give these urban cowboys the cinematic language they’ve been denied.
Mike Ryan from Uproxx echoed the previous critics’ thoughts about how Concrete Cowboy “doesn’t offer a ton of surprises,” but he found the movie to be so much more than just the familiar “estranged father reconnecting with his son” plot. The western drama brings focus to the very real history of Black cowboys and how Hollywood erased their legacy, and that legacy is still very much alive today. Ryan said:
Concrete Cowboy is a nice movie about fathers and sons and humanity and the legacy of why there are people riding horses in places you wouldn’t expect to see any horses.
Katie Rife from AV Club complimented Minka Farthing-Kohl’s cinematography, calling it “magic." She acknowledged the cliché coming-of-age storyline, but also praised Staub for paying tribute to the Fletcher Street Riders and bringing this storied subculture into the mainstream. Rife argues that what helps Concrete Cowboy avoid clichés is the intriguing characters and “its earnest belief in the steadying power of the bond between humans and animals, as well as the value of legacy and community in giving our lives meaning.” She continued, saying:
So yeah, it’s a little corny at times, but it looks good and has heart—and, let’s be honest, Black cowboys are pretty damn cool.
Pajiba’s Kristy Puchko thinks the performances in the film are “excellent,” but she criticizes the script. She argues that we don’t get enough back story of Cole and Harp, noting that “these two are more caricatures than people,” and when the movie finally tries to ignite their story it’s too late. She also argues that the film could have utilized the real-life urban cowboys more, writing,
Despite these stumbles, Concrete Cowboy is a drama that boasts touching performances, terrific character, and some moments of absolute cinematic bliss. It’s a bumpy ride, studded with confounding script choices and some unearned beats. Yet it manages to capture the magic of the Fleet Street Stables while announcing to the world that McLaughlin is ready to stride out of an ensemble and into the spotlight.
So saddle up, partner, because it would seem from these reviews that we're going to see some badass cowboys in this movie. You can stream it on Netflix this Friday, April 2.