Josh Barton’s review published on Letterboxd:
You are who you ride with.
It's always great to watch a film about cultures you know next to nothing about, Ricky Staub's Concrete Cowboy being exactly that as a film about the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club and urban African-American horse-riding culture in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Netflix sure were committed to delivering around seventy original films this year and Concrete Cowboy may be my favourite yet.
Inspired by the real-life Fletcher Street Stables, 15-year-old Cole is taken to live with his estranged father Harp in North Philadelphia. There he discovers the city's vibrant urban cowboy subculture, which has existed for more than 100 years providing a safe haven for the neighborhood despite the surrounding poverty, violence, and encroachment of gentrification.
Ricky Staub makes his directorial debut with Concrete Cowboy, an evocative tale of a father-son relationship that needs rebuilding amidst the backdrop of a fascinating culture, itself needing to be rebuilt having become a lost way of life in America. Using real riders amongst the cast adds a real sense of authenticity to the film and enables them to bring their proud way of life to the screen, something I really enjoyed learning about as the film progressed.
The streets of Philadelphia are brought to life through Minka Farthing-Kohl's cinematography that does a great job in showing the contrast between the two choices Cole faces at a crucial point in his life. The sun-drenched neighbourhood his father lives in with the stables just around the corner offering a peaceful way of life while the seedier nightlife of crime that Cole is seduced into by his friend, Smush, proves that actions have bigger consequences that he could ever think of during a vital crossroads in his life.
Stranger Things, another property of Netflix, has propelled its child stars into stardom and that includes Caleb McLaughlin, who delivers a performance that solidifies his status as a star in the making. Cole is a troubled young man who faces an important choice in his life and McLaughlin portrays the confliction of choosing between his father or his friend, a great feeling of empathy for the character as a result. Idris Elba is good in the role of Cole's gruff father, Harp, a hardened soul trying to do best by his son and ensure he chooses the right path to go down while Jharrel Jerome delivers another fine performance as Smush, who has a past with the club but wants to make a life for himself in a more illegitimate manner.
Concrete Cowboy prides itself on showcasing what must be an incredibly different lifestyle to most, Ricky Staub impressing with his debut feature and the cast coming together to tell such a relatable story to many families around the world.