Concrete Cowboy stars Idris Elba and Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin as an estranged father and son whose fraught reunion takes place in Philadelphia’s underground horse-riding scene. This setting – the real-life world of America’s inner-city cowboys – would have been better served by a documentary, as it is the most interesting part of what is ultimately a thinly-plotted YA adaptation.

We follow teenager Cole as he reluctantly re-enters his father’s life, which centres on the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club – a real Philadelphia organisation, several members of which make up the supporting cast. One early scene has the Club educating Cole about the history of black cowboys and the systemic erasure of this history by white American hegemony. The Club itself is under threat, in the film and in reality, from the ever-gentrifying city that seeks to eliminate poor Black people’s spaces.

Instead of drawing its plot from this rich setting, Concrete Cowboy pastes over it with a generic afterschool-special script concerning Cole’s moral education. He moves from one plot beat to the next as prompted by good-influence Harp (Elba) and bad-influence Smush (Jharrel Jerome), often complaining but never driving his own story. Father and son bond through tough love, and we all learn that crime doesn’t pay.

At least it’s all very competently filmed, occasionally even pretty within the limits of Netflix’s house style. Most importantly, it demonstrates that McLaughlin is an appealing actor who could do well with better material, and deserves to escape his origins in Gen-X nostalgia fodder.

Concrete Cowboy takes a fascinating real-world premise and churns it through Reed Hastings’ inoffensive content algorithm. The resulting movie is doomed to be another forgotten title in the streaming landfill – a shame, since its subject matter and talented cast hint at the much more compelling project it could have been.



CAST: Caleb McLaughlin, Idris Elba, Lorraine Toussaint, Jharrel Jerome

DIRECTOR: Ricky Staub

WRITERS: Ricky Staub, Dan Walser

SYNOPSIS: A teenager discovers the world of urban horseback riding when he moves in with his estranged father in North Philadelphia.