2019, R, 99 min. Directed by Vincent D’Onofrio. Starring Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Jake Schur, Chris Pratt, Leila George, Adam Baldwin.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 8, 2019
Western legends live large – and long, which is why a new movie about Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid can be greeted with anticipation rather than tired jeers. Since practically the dawn of movies, re-creations of the chase between these two sharpshooters has provided rich and recurrent subject matter for dramatic confrontations in that most American of all film genres, the Western. Only 21 at the time of his death, the rogue killer Billy the Kid was fatally shot by lawman Pat Garrett in 1881, and is now an embodiment of the idea of living fast and dying young, while Garrett, in the course of frontier justice, came to be viewed as the man who squelched the legend. As the signature line in The Kid declares: “It doesn’t matter what’s true. What matters is the story they tell when you’re gone.”
The Kid tells the completely fictional tale of Rio Cutler (Schur), a nearly 15-year-old boy in the old West who decides, after coming into close contact with Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett for a period of time, the kind of life he’ll choose for his future. It’s only by chance that Rio becomes acquainted with these legends, stumbling into one of their skirmishes as he and his sister Sara (George) escape their abusive father after killing him for having killed their mother. That’s the film’s opening scene! Enchanted by the swagger and insouciance of the baby-faced Kid (DeHaan), who is only a few years older than he, Rio is also drawn to the quiet confidence and focus of the mustached Garrett (Hawke). Both men offer the boy friendship, albeit in different ways. A study in contrasts, these two legends provide Rio with examples he might emulate as he approaches manhood. Having killed his father, Rio shares a mortal identification with both men, but he takes to heart the advice given to him by Garrett: “A man’s wrongs matter, but there’s nothing as important as what he does next.” The Kid ends with Rio on the verge of “next.”
Vincent D’Onofrio, best known as an actor, directed The Kid from a screenplay by Andrew Lanham. The film reunites D’Onofrio with two of The Magnificent Seven (Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt were among his co-stars in that recent Western remake, and D’Onofrio also appears onscreen in a small role in The Kid. Additionally, Ben Dickey, who starred last year as Blaze Foley in Hawke’s Blaze, appears in a small role and in the music credits). Pratt delightfully plays against type here as a fierce bully, and Hawke looks as though he were born to wear spurs and a badge. Cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd keeps the interior lighting on the dark side, which may provide a sense of verisimilitude but is the enemy of any audience member striving to clearly see what is happening (a particular hindrance to the film’s opening sequence). The storytelling is fairly run-of-the-mill, but it does offer an original perspective on these classic Western figures. The Kid summons up the carefree mood one might experience at a B-movie matinee.