'The Kid': Film Review

An enjoyable and finely acted take on an oft-told story.
3/8/2019

Ethan Hawke plays Pat Garrett to Dane DeHaan's Billy the Kid in director Vincent D'Onofrio's Western.

In Vincent D'Onofrio's The Kid, Dane DeHaan joins Paul Newman, Roy Rogers, Emilio Estevez, Kris Kristofferson and other actors who've portrayed William Bonney, aka Billy The Kid. Unsurprisingly given the fluidity of Wild West legends, the picture charts its own path, owing something to Sam Peckinpah's famous take while choosing to view the action through the eyes of another "kid," a boy Bonney meets while on the run from lawman Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke). The result is very pleasing, even for moviegoers who don't pine for the Western's return, and represents a big step forward in the directing career of D'Onofrio, whose previous feature (after the enjoyable short Five Minutes, Mr. Welles) was a "slasher musical" that nearly nobody saw.

After a short, unnecessary voiceover introduction, we meet the other kid, Rio (Jake Schur) as he makes a fateful decision: Vainly attempting to keep his father from beating his mother to death, he grabs a pistol and kills the man. Lest his nasty uncle Grant (Chris Pratt, cast against type and loving it) hold him accountable, Rio flees the scene with older sister Sara (Leila George).

They're hoping to get to Santa Fe, but find themselves stuck in an abandoned house with Billy — who makes his entrance looking like he's posing for that famous tintype portrait. Billy's gang has been cornered by the newly installed sheriff, and when Garrett takes him into custody, he offers the kids a ride to Santa Fe. Big-eyed Rio can hardly hide the awe he feels for the outlaw; he may not be happy to have blood on his hands, but being able to claim some kind of kinship with Billy seems to give the boy a new sense of himself. (Schur, son of the film's producer Jordan Schur, is something of a cipher in the role; it's a legitimate take on the character, but not the most entertaining one.)

DeHaan makes Billy's charm persuasive: Easygoing in captivity but always trying to escape, the scoundrel makes the sheriff look like a stiff. (Hawke's gracious performance gives the younger actor room to stretch out.) Garrett and his deputy Jim (Benjamin Dickey, star of Hawke's recent Blaze) have their hands full — not only do they have to keep their prisoner in his shackles, they have to fend off all the other folks (including a sheriff played by cameo-ing D'Onofrio) who want to bring him in for the ransom themselves.

Andrew Lanham's nicely plotted script feels free to invent and alter what are thought to be the facts of the Garrett/Bonney story, and his dialogue manages to make its Liberty Valance-style observations about Western mythology sound reasonably fresh. The script only really draws attention to itself after the Kid is dead: When (with Garrett's help) the lowercase kid finally confronts his uncle, the latter decides to soliloquize about bluebirds. The film gets past this hiccup, moving out into the street for an iconic standoff.

In the end, its revisionist commentary hardly interferes with old-fashioned satisfactions — this is not the kind of Western where women rescue themselves. And in a world where nearly everyone grows up before they should have to, the title character avoids paying a grown-up price for the mistakes he has made.

 

Production companies: Mimran Schur Pictures, Suretone Pictures
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Jake Schur, Leila George, Adam Baldwin, Chris Pratt
Director: Vincent D'Onofrio
Screenwriter: Andrew Lanham
Producers: Jordan Schur, Nick Thurlow, Sam Maydew, David Mimran
Executive producers: Richard Brickell, Jonathan Bross, Ali Jazayeri, Samir Patel
Director of photography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Production designer: Sara K. White
Costume designer: Ruby Katilius
Editor: Katharine McQuerrey
Composers: Latham Gaines, Shelby Gaines
Casting director: Mary Vernieu

R, 99 minutes