Vincent D’Onofrio makes his feature debut with a re-telling of the story of Sheriff Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, set in the last days of the Old West legend that saw the lawman finally catch the heels of the infamous outlaw.
The story is framed the perspective of 14 year-old Rio Cutler (newcomer Jake Schur), a young boy on the run with his sister Sara (Leila George), both desperate the escape the clutches of their terrifying Uncle (Chris Pratt). On their travels, they unwittingly stumble into the narrative of Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan). With Rio torn as to who to trust between the Sheriff and the Outlaw, the chance encounter soon becomes a crucial moment for the young boy deciding just what sort of man he wants to become.
Like the fact that we all have a great novel in us, most American filmmakers must think that they have a great Western within them. One of Hollywood cinema’s most well-worn, dusty and cherished genres, the Western has been responsible for producing films that helped define early American cinema. While the genre is well beyond its Golden Age, that’s not stopped filmmakers heading back to the frontier to see just what they can offer America’s oldest, and perhaps greatest, cinematic genre.
D’Onofrio has clearly made The Kid with a lot of affection for both the genre and the history of these characters. There is undoubtedly something unique about the approach of following a kid meeting The Kid by chance and stumbling into a story that we now know has become legend.
Unfortunately for The Kid, there is simply not enough storytelling prowess, or that much in the way of original genre filmmaking to allow it to stand out from the crowd. That is always the risk a filmmaker runs when it comes to working in a genre that has been part of the cinematic language since very early on in its inception. Sadly, The Kid struggles to stand-out from the crowd, leaning on too many tropes to get by in its awkwardly paced journey across the Southwestern United states.
The lumbering screenplay is often at odds with itself when it comes to articulating its grand thematic ideas concerning legacy and the warring ideals of lawman and outlaw. Scenes rarely flow seamlessly from one to another, particularly as we build to a final act that has to provide closure for both Billy’s narrative as well as lead Rio’s story to a satisfying end. In the end, both are kind of fumbled in an effort to stick to the facts as well as offer a little bit of revisionist history. It is a shame, because on the surface this should offer a fresh perspective on the well-worn hat that is the story of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, but leaves one feeling like they barely scratch the surface of what these two historical characters offer to the narrative of the Old West.
While the story-telling may be inherently flawed, there is no denying that D’Onofrio has made a very handsome Western, making great use of the wonderful vistas that Sante Fe and New Mexico have to offer.
There is also no denying what the well assembled cast bring to the film as well. While there isn’t a great deal of chemistry between Hawke and DeHaan that would suggest a long shared history, they both tackle their individual roles with relish, DeHaan in particular delivering a performance that bridges on unhinged but remains sympathetic throughout. He particularly strikes up a chord with the young Jake Schur as Rio, helping the young actor feel more confident on screen.
The most surprising performance though comes from Chris Pratt. While his time on screen may be limited, he brings a great deal of menace to his role as the psychotic Uncle tracking down Rio and his sister. There are moments where Pratt feels like a force of nature; he’s large, imposing, and often quite terrifying. It’s a refreshing performance from the actor, demonstrating a certain set of skills that feel miles away from his cuddly Hollywood persona.
The Kid is a well-shot and well-acted Western that looks to offer a fresh perspective on the two legends that are Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Unfortunately, the final product feels too beholden to Westerns of the past to truly stand out as a new take worthy of your time, often struggling to generate a sense of momentum in a story that struggles to articulate just what it wants to say about the tradition of great American myth-making.
Dir: Vincent D’Onofrio
Scr: Andrew Lanham, story by Vincent D’Onofrio and Andrew Lanham
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Jake Schur, Laeila George and Chris Pratt.
Prd: Jordan Schur, Nick Thurlow, Sam Maydew and David Mimra
DOP: Matthew J. Lloyd
Music: Latham & Shelby Gaines
Country: United States
Runtime: 100 minutes
The Kid is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.