Although the likes of Lil Nas Xmight have brought the idea of Black Americans and cowboy iconography forward, it's something that's existed for hundreds of years and has largely been neglected and white-washed.
Indeed, there's a scene in 'Concrete Cowboy' when the members of the riding club that makes up much of the movie's heart and soul discuss how the very name of 'cowboy', and the kinship between them, was erased by years of Hollywood revisionism.
That said, 'Concrete Cowboy' isn't the first urban cowboy movie, nor is it the first Black cowboy movie either. It is, however, an earnest and forthright attempt to highlight an area of the Black experience in the US that is often overlooked and ignored. Idris Elba plays Harp, a member of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club in Philadelphia, who tries to reconnect with his son Cole, played by Caleb McLaughlin.
At first, Cole and Harp have an antagonistic relationship. Cole, who was raised in Detroit by his mother, wanders the streets of Philadelphia trying to find somewhere to take him in, eventually reconnecting with his childhood friend Smush, played by 'Moonlight' breakout Jharrel Jerome. Though Smush and Cole are friends, Harp begins to train his son in training and breaking horses, though the process is long and arduous.
If any of this sounds vaguely like 'Boyz N The Hood', or basically any story where the son reconnects with an estranged father, you'd be right. 'Concrete Cowboy' does follow a very familiar formula, and while the performances from the likes of Idris Elba, Method Man, and Byron Bowers are all convincing and authentic, the story itself doesn't have the same integrity. Applying familiar stories to unfamiliar surroundings might help to make it more accessible, but it doesn't make it better. Caleb McLaughlin does give a spirited performance, and the dynamic between him and Idris feels lived in and real.
Likewise, Ricky Staub's camerawork and the cinematography by Minka Farthing-Kohl is able to capture the inherent beauty of it all, choosing to ignore the implied incongruity of it and instead accepting it as is. There's a lot to like about 'Concrete Cowboy', but ultimately, it's a movie that leans heavily on familiar tropes, though its unique setting helps to offset this.
'Concrete Cowboy' is available on Netflix from April 2nd.