The tendency of most modern Westerns is to go about as dark as you can, but few in recent memory go quite as morose as The Kid, the sophomore effort from actor-turned-director Vincent D’Onofrio, working from a screenplay by Andrew Lanham. The Kid concerns a 14-year-old boy crossing paths with Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) and Sheriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) while on the run from a downright evil uncle (an unrecognizable—in both looks and demeanor—Chris Pratt).
The film opens with the boy named Rio (newcomer Jake Schur) bursting in on his father as he is beating his mother to death; the boy ends up killing his dad, leaving himself and his older sister Sara (Leila George) on the run from their father’s brother, Grant, who wants revenge despite the reasons behind the killing. On their way to find a friend of their mother’s in Santa Fe, the kids run into Billy the Kid and his dwindling gang, who have been picked off one by one by Sheriff Garrett (a former best friend of Billy’s) as he chases them from town to town. Rio knows Billy the Kid’s stories well and, like many, admires the outlaw’s perseverance. But Rio is also impressed by Garrett’s kind heart and willingness to hear about his crimes without judgment. As he often has lately, Hawke taps into his morally compromised character and finds both the decency and the flaws that define him.
Placing this quiet observer between these two larger-than-life figures is a way to watch the way the two men both respected and loathed the path the other has taken. Billy is prone to try and escape and Garrett is very good at capturing him time after time; both men are also remarkably great shots. Large portions of The Kid are essentially a road movie, as Garrett transports Billy to a judge that will likely sentence him to hang for his many crimes. Along the way, we encounter another sheriff (played by the director) who wants Billy to hang in his town, mostly for the notoriety.
I liked that D’Onofrio essentially pulled fellow cast members from his time on The Magnificent Seven set (Hawke and Pratt) to be a part of this. And in turn, one of Garrett’s sidekicks is played by Ben Dickey, who played Blaze Foley in Hawke’s most recent directing effort Blaze. Dickey also provides the film’s eerie closing credits music. The Kid feels like a bunch of friends who have been desperate to make a certain type of Western getting together and doing just that. The true scene stealer of the movie is Pratt, with full beard, strange haircut and false teeth, who brings us a level of surreal, unredeemable villainy that is unlike anything he’s done before.
The back half of the film becomes a pursuit story as Garrett helps young Rio search for Sara, who has been kidnapped by their uncle. It’s more conventional than the rest of the film but no less interesting and watchable. The Kid incorporates equal parts familiar Western tropes (yes, there’s a 10-paces gunfight) and some new elements to the familiar genre. D’Onofrio and his team make this film look both lived in and elegant, and the result is a solid tale of horses and dust and gunplay that adds up to something familiar but still special.
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