Film in review: “Concrete Cowboy”

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The Winonan’s film reporter rates “Concrete Cowboy” 4/5 stars

Noah Mruz, film reviewer

The sun is out, the weather is getting nice and you know what that means; “horse girl” energy is in full swing. This year, Netflix decided to get in on the love of horses with their new original film “Concrete Cowboy.” This Western drama follows 15-year-old Cole as he is sent to live with his estranged father, Harp, for the summer in Northern Philadelphia. Cole reconnects with an old childhood friend, Smush, and is soon torn between following his father’s path as a modern-day cowboy and becoming a drug dealer with his friend. While the film has its faults, it does an excellent job with its narrative, cast and sound design.

A Western set in the modern-day can seem contradictory. “Cowboys in today’s day and age? Not possible” you may think, however, the film draws its source material from real-world cowboys living in Northern Philadelphia today as they struggle to maintain their way of life. The filmmakers draw attention that before seeing the film, I thought was a fictional creation.

Outside of the story of these cowboys, the drama between Cole, Harp and Smush is carefully and excellently told. The narrative starts with a slow burn that sets up the world Cole is thrown into, that then ramps up. The plot brings up great points about race and culture amongst a teen’s journey to figure out who he wants to be in life. There are points where the plot slows down possibly too much, and the film feels like it shot a few endings and kept them all in the final cut due to the way it is shot. Overall, it is a great story with a few extremely minor problems.

The acting in the film is pretty amazing. Idris Elba, who plays Cole’s father Harp, is always wonderful and charismatic in almost anything he’s in, and that is no exception here. Cole, played by Caleb McLaughlin, who you may recognize from “Stranger Things” also does an excellent job in the film. I was slightly skeptical going into the film since I haven’t seen McLaughlin in anything else, but he kills it. One of the greatest feats of the film is the acting of the side characters. Besides four characters in the film, everyone else is played by real Northern Philly Cowboys, and they do great work! I was shocked to watch the film that I hadn’t seen some of the actors in other films, and even more shocked to find out that they aren’t even actors. It is truly amazing how well they do in the cast, and how much they bring to the film.

Finally, the sound design was something really fun I noticed in the film. At points, there is music mixed with an old Western-style whistle and modern-day movie music that fit perfectly in the film. Other music that is diegetic to the film fits perfectly into the setting. Other elements like horses neighing and the sound of gunshots fit extremely well and never draw attention to themselves in the best way possible.

As some of you may know, Netflix has committed itself to release a new, big-budget original film each week of 2021. Some have been flops and some have been great, and “Concrete Cowboy” falls on the great side, without a doubt. With a great cast, engaging plot, and terrific sound design, the film will draw you in and captivate you throughout the whole way through. Some minor problems I noticed with the film are the weird editing of some shots that contrast from the film and relate more to a 2010s spring break beach montage, as well as a couple of ending shots. Outside of this, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I am giving “Concrete Cowboy” a 4 out of 5 stars. Now giddy on up outta here and get ready for them finals.