“Concrete Cowboys” Review

Story posted April 8, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Maggie Wilson.

Friday, Netflix released “Concrete Cowboys,” an American Western drama that follows 15-year-old Cole’s adventures in Philadelphia living with his estranged father. The film debuted at the Toronto film festival in September and was later picked up by the streaming service.

The work is based on Greg Neri’s book “Ghetto Cowboy.” Neri drew inspiration for his novel from the real-life Black cowboys of Philadelphia, many of which rode at the Fletcher Street Stables.

Both the book and film illustrate the dangers of gentrification. The city is currently developing Fletcher’s Street land, forcing the cowboys to find a permanent stable to preserve their rich heritage.

“Concrete Cowboys” is a touching coming of age story about Cole, a fictional character whose mother sent him to live with his father for the summer after being expelled from his high school.

Cole is portrayed by Caleb McLaughlin of the hit show “Stranger Things.” McLaughlin expertly embodies adolescent angst and emotion.

Having lived in Detroit for most of his life, the young boy struggles to adjust to the cowboy lifestyle. To make matters worse, his father, Harp, seems more fatherly to the community members than his son - teaching them how to ride and making them homemade saddles, amongst other things.

In a critical scene, Cole confronts his father, played by Idris Elba. The two have a heart to heart about Harp’s troubled past, and the father pleads with his son to not repeat his mistakes, which landed him five years in prison, away from his child.

The drama was primarily shot in Northern Philadelphia and even features local cowboys who work the stables on Fletcher Street. These citizen actors grant credibility to the work as a whole, as their roles mirror their actual duties.

According to Time Magazine, additional riders helped shape the screenplay and served as advisors on set. Director and co-writer Ricky Staub notes, “I wanted to capture the spirit - I wanted to make sure that they felt like their story was accurate.”

Staub did an excellent job at weaving short stories from those real-life riders into his fictional feature. He is the talented founder of Neighborhood Film Co., which hires and trains former convicts to work in production.

The program introduced him to Eric Miller, a former felon on parole, who purchased a horse within one week of release. Miller taught Staub about Philadelphia’s black cowboys and piqued his interest in the community.

“Concrete Cowboys” has several resounding themes and corresponding quotes from characters.

The notoriously stern but caring Nessie remembers Cole from his childhood and tells him, “Hard things come before good things.” Cole must work hard to turn his life around and become the man he wishes to be.

Neighborhood cop Leroy tells Cole, “You don’t have to get out to grow up.” The teen learns that he can grow, even flourish, where he is planted instead of running.

At the end of the film, Harp delivers an impactful line, “Home ain’t a place, it’s a fam. That’s what makes us cowboys.” Viewers discover that to be a cowboy means more than where you’re from or the color of your skin.

Rating: 5/5

Maggie Wilson is a sophomore majoring in public relations. To contact her, email mwilson@psu.edu.