Hero Worship (Film Review: “The Kid”)

A thrilling tale about the legendary feud between outlaw Billy the Kid & Sheriff Pat Garrett, and the young boy caught in the crossfire.

SnapShot Plot

An exciting and emotionally resonant remake of the Billy the Kid/Pat Garrett legend was released last year with The Kid, directed by (and co-starring in a lesser role) a real actor’s actor, Vincent D’Onofrio. In a deliberate play on words, the title ‘kid’ refers to both the mythical outlaw who terrorized the American Southwest and the boy whose path crosses with Billy’s while on the run from lawman Pat Garrett.

It’s 1879 somewhere in New Mexico when the young Rio Cutler (Jake Schur) and his older sister, Sara (Leila George) barely escape from their evil uncle, Grant (Chris Pratt) after a shockingly violent domestic abuse in their home. As the brother and sister wander through the countryside toward Santa Fe in the hopes that their mother’s kin will take them in, they encounter the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid and his crew, hiding out from Billy’s nemesis, Sheriff Pat Garrett. Billy (in a convincingly semi-delirious performance by rising star Dane DeHaan) seems an amalgam of a person; where the real man ends and the tabloid persona begins is anyone’s guess. But to young Rio, whose only familiarity to the person is the legend, meeting the flesh and blood outlaw and discovering they have a common history is undeniable proof that Billy the Kid will indeed be their savior.

Jake Schur (whose father’s company produced the film) brings a level-eyed gravitas beyond his years to the part of Rio. The kid’s dialogue is sparse so his presence at the center of the movie’s action springs from his world-weary countenance, his watchful attention to the adults around him, and a pained and pure heartfelt sincerity which grounds the entire production.

Ethan Hawke’s depiction of Sheriff Pat Garrett encompasses the movie’s ethical terrain, through and through. Hawke’s performance demonstrates Garrett’s moral counterpoint to Billy but more dramatically reveals the reasons why Rio is initially drawn to Billy, and why it’s Garrett who emerges as his ultimate savior. A narrative glimpse of style over substance, and vice versa. Along the way, the body count keeps climbing as the cat and mouse game between Billy and Pat escalates, with the fate of Rio and Sara hanging in the balance, themselves having already lost so much and realizing that all they have left is each other.

Parting Shot

In 2017, somewhere in the outskirts of Santa Fe, NM it must have felt like a reunion of sorts when three co-stars of The Magnificent Seven – Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, and Director, Vincent D’Onofrio – got together on The Kid. The scenery is magnificent, with appropriately gritty set pieces and quite convincing production detail. In almost every way, this film is firing on all cylinders, with heart-stopping action sequences that still seem grounded in historical reality. Where it suffers, though, is in the story and script by D’Onofrio and Andrew Lanham. Though exciting and sentimental in the best sense, The Kid suffers from conventional and pre-Feminist Western tropes that (mostly) portray women as damsels in distress who need to be saved by brave men. If only (real-life daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio) Leila George’s role of Sara had been expanded to embody more of her character’s inherent bravery, instead of being reduced to a symbol of subjugation and humiliation, we would appreciate even more of the sibling love that shines in Rio’s pursuit of her captors.

As mentioned earlier, the entire narrative springs from an abhorrent act of domestic violence, from which Sara and Rio flee. And this indeed beats at the heart of the film, which in many ways feels like a modern meditation on a story as old as the hills. What else beats true about this fine film is a cautionary note as timeless as they come. About the perils of Fame and Celebrity. As Pat Garrett exclaims in a gun-touting showdown at the end, “It doesn’t matter what’s true! It matters the story they tell about you after you’re gone.”

As we used to say in the world of Public Relations, you should counsel your clients never to read their own press releases. It’s usually the beginning of the end.

The Kid is presently streaming on Amazon Prime and also on Hulu.

Norma’s Streaming Picks is proud to partner on a fantastic site for Baby Boomers, Midcentury/Modern (presently known as Pandemic Diaries) as well as right here at home. I invite you to go there for more great content!

YouTube Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMyCaQGlqU

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