Steve Taylor-Bryant saddles up to watch The Kid, out on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray on 3rd June thanks to Lionsgate UK...
“It doesn’t matter what’s true, it matters what story they’ll tell when you’re gone”
Westerns are very often hit and miss and, since the days of Unforgiven and Young Guns, good westerns are very rare. The Magnificent Seven remake was okay, and I loved The Ballad of Lefty Brown, but that’s two films in nearly three decades. Then, when you narrow a western down to Billy the Kid, then you really are looking at slim pickings. That's when you get Vincent D’Onofrio directing Andrew Lanham’s screenplay titled The Kid, which is, yes, a film that contains both Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett and billed as this –
The story of a young boy who witnesses Billy the Kid’s encounter with Sherriff Pat Garrett
But, actually, isn’t really about either Garrett or Billy, it's about the boy who doesn’t even get named in the description. Which is a shame really, because the boy steals the show. The following contains mild spoilers about The Kid, and major spoilers if you have no idea about the history of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.
The Kid starts out brutally, with a man beating his wife to death, and his young son, Rio (Jake Schur), killing his father for the treatment of his mother and to protect his sister Sarah (Leila George). Rio and Sarah must flee from the evil uncle, Grant (Chris Pratt), who wishes to avenge his brother’s death by killing his nephew and sending his niece into prostitution. Along the way, Rio and Sarah get entangled with Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) and Dave Rudabaugh (Chad Dashnaw) just as they are arrested by Sherriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and his men. As Garrett takes Rudabaugh and Billy into Santa Fe, Sarah and Rio run, hoping to meet up with an old friend of their mothers.
Unfortunately, their uncle is there waiting for them and, whilst Rio escapes, Sarah is taken. As Rudabaugh is due to hang, he gets word to Rio that Billy knows where the uncle has taken his sister and Rio heads off to Lincoln where Billy is in custody. Billy escapes the courthouse and he and Rio go to Billy’s girl's ranch, where Rio finally realises that Billy isn’t going to help him get his sister back. That night Pat Garrett shoots and kills Billy and Rio is left with no other choice than to seek assistance from Garrett in the rescue of Sarah.
I won’t give away any more than that, as it's at this point that the historical timeline of Pat Garrett becomes somewhat skewed. However, when you watch The Kid for yourselves, by this time you will be invested enough to want to find out what happens next anyway.
D’Onofrio has done a good job with The Kid. The story is solid and has a nice mix of what is historically known and what is fictional. The look of the film is great, cinematically pleasing on the eye without having to rely on beautifully shot landscapes, which is good as D’Onofrio uses a lot of close ups to really capture his characters, and that’s important because, whilst there really are some brutal action scenes, they are few and far between and The Kid, at its heart, is a character piece. It is a film about domestic violence, about revenge, about survival, about rebuilding your life and what is important to you once you have gone through a traumatic event and there is much soul searching and dialogue in The Kid which is rare for a western and welcome in my opinion.
Dane DeHaan makes a great Billy the Kid. He has that cheeky yet murderous glint in his eye and quite the range of emotions, making the character a lot more intriguing than maybe past incarnations have been. Chris Pratt, whilst quite heavily billed, is not in much of The Kid but, when he is, prepare yourself for a vile, evil, awful man. This is not the role Pratt usually plays and you can see him relish being an utter bastard for once. Hawke is exactly what you want Pat Garrett to be portrayed like and I honestly think we should make a law where only Ethan Hawke is allowed to play the Sheriff from now on. His chemistry with Jake Schur in particular is wonderful to see, part lawman, part father figure, and the bond these unlikely allies have towards the end of the film is masterfully played. It is Jake Schur that steals the show though, what a young talent this man is. He carries all the heavy emotional workload on his shoulders, sharing nearly every scene with far more experienced peers and yet doesn’t look out of place, doesn’t seem overawed, and is most convincing as this troubled boy, Rio. If this is what Schur is capable of in his debut feature, then look out Hollywood because there is another star on the rise.
The Kid is maybe not a great Billy the Kid film, the problem with such an iconic character is there are only so many ways you can re-tread familiar ground, but using the legend in the way D’Onofrio has here was certainly a brave choice and I applaud the effort, because, in the main The Kid is a great film. However, I just can't help feeling that maybe Rio and Sarah stumbled across Billy a bit too quickly and that their unlikely friendship was built a bit suddenly. I’d have liked that initial part of the relationship explored a bit more but, when you are making a film with a bigger narrative, I can understand that things must move along. I also found the treatment of Sarah, pretty much just a crying victim in all her scenes, rather poor. She experienced the same things as her younger brother did, but he gets to go on an adventure and she gets to play victim with no strength to her character, no juicy retribution storyline, just crying? I found that rather tasteless if I’m honest. The chemistry between Hawke and Schur though, the scenes they share together are just wonderful. Hawke is always value for money in my opinion and often he is a standout performer but to see him and Schur in The Kid, the way Hawke responds to Schur and vice versa, is such a joyous event that the aforementioned flaws are almost forgivable.
A solid western, a great character piece, a flawless debut for a young actor, and cinema's best Pat Garrett. Until someone has a proper crack at the legend of Billy the Kid this will do nicely.
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Image - Lionsgate
The Kid is on Digital Download, Blu-ray & DVD from 3 June from Lionsgate UK