Vincent D’Onofrio’s “The Kid” is a fresh venture across some well-traveled cinematic territory. Over the years we’ve seen the legend of Billy the Kid explored through numerous movies and television shows. D’Onofrio doesn’t so much retell William H. Bonney’s story as he does intersect with it.
“The Kid” puts its main focus on a young boy named Rio (Jake Schur). In the opening scene we see him and his older sister Sara (Leila George) fleeing their home. Rio has shot and killed his abusive father and his equally violent uncle (a rather menacing Chris Pratt) wants revenge for his brother’s death.
The siblings cross paths with the notorious Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) who sees shades of himself in Rio and promises to keep the two safe. But in no time the dogged Sheriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) sweeps in and takes them all into custody. Pat and his men intend to get Billy to Lincoln, New Mexico to pay for his crimes. The opportunistic Billy keeps his eyes open for any chance to escape.
While their game of cat-and-mouse plays out, the film’s centerpiece (Rio) is forced to decide what kind of man he’s going to be. So amid a slew of western violence and oneupmanship, an unexpected coming-of-age story springs up. Does Rio follow the path of the charismatic outlaw or the principled lawman?
The story was conceived by D’Onofrio and screenwriter Andrew Lanham. The bulk of it is told through Rio’s eyes as his innocence is steadily being chiseled away. The two influences in front of him couldn’t be more different and watching him wrestle with both adds an interesting and unexpected twist. It keeps the whole thing from being yet another telling of Billy the Kid’s story.
But I don’t want to shortchange the Billy vs. Pat angle. It will certainly be familiar for many and D’Onofrio doesn’t bring much new too it. But it’s still fun to watch mainly due to the performances given by DeHaan and Hawke. I’ve long struggled to fully embrace DeHaan as an actor but this is definitely a step in the right direction. He has always had a hard-to-define screen presence and it actually works really well here. Hawke on the other hand gives another rock solid showing, continuing a streak of great performances that have become his norm.
D’Onofrio frames all of this through a nicely realized western backdrop. He shows off a good eye for setting and a nice sense of the genre he’s working in. His pacing is a bit uneven at times and many won’t be able to shake the feelings that they’ve seen some of this before. But “The Kid” offers enough of a mixture of fresh and familiar to not only warrant its existence, but to provide an unorthodox and entertaining Old West experience.
VERDICT – 4 STARS