Parents' Guide to

Concrete Cowboy

By Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Language, violence in beautifully acted coming-of-age drama.

Movie R 2021 111 minutes
Concrete Cowboy Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 13+

Based on 1 parent review

age 13+

Concrete Cowboy is for families with teens

Concrete Cowboy (2021) is a Netflix film starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin, and tells about a young teenager named Cole who goes to live with his father in Philadelphia. His father has be largely absent from Cole's life, and Cole is repeatedly getting expelled from schools. When he gets to his father's, he is pushed to the edge by the strict rules and the literal horse in his living room. His father is able to break-through the walls Cole's put up teach him the valuable history and legacy of Black American Urban Cowboys. The film is for older teens as there are many issues around urban life and poverty in this film. Cole spends time with a young man who is dealing drugs. There is a violent murder in the film and there is drinking and smoking. However, the film has great messages and Cole makes his way to some really great role-models, played by actual cowboys from the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club.

This title has:

Great messages
Great role models
Too much swearing

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1):
Kids say (4):

This is a poignant, beautifully filmed tale elevated by an excellent cast and a real-life history that has affirmative messages for teenagers and the Black community as a whole. Concrete Cowboy is not without its sadder moments, though, including a line Elba delivers about being "born with a boot on my neck." He and his son, like Paris and Smush and others, all share a mixed sense of oppression and fear that has led them to make destructive life choices. But who is a person supposed to grow up to be when he's told all his life to watch his back on the streets, Harp asks? The film visualizes this sense by filming frequently at night, using light intentionally to frame characters or highlight specific attributes. Music is also used to reflect the experiences of different generations of Black Americans, with harmonica, traditional song, jazz musicians, and rap music employed evocatively.

London-born Elba pulls off playing a Philadelphia cowboy, and while the riders are certainly portrayed as noble, wise, and righteous, the movie doesn't fall into the trap of depicting any of them as perfect. It's the women -- Nessie and Esha -- who provide the pearls of wisdom, like "Hard things come before good things," and "Horses aren't the only thing needing breaking around here." But Harp, a chain-smoker with hard edges and a checkered past, has trouble creating emotional intimacy with his son, and Elba's performance is as much about what he conveys without speaking as his delivered lines. McLaughlin is going to be the real surprise out of this film, though. The gawky kid from Stranger Things is transformed here into a young man trying to appear streetwise, and McLaughlin, who's in nearly every scene, captures Cole's combination of tough and tender. His character has one foot in two different worlds, the stables and the streets, woven together throughout the film, not always 100% smoothly. McLaughlin ably embodies the teen processing these contrasting experiences, trying to decide his own way, his own conception of manhood and a good life. End credits include interviews with some real-life Fletcher Street Riders, including some who play themselves in the film.

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