They say, "Never meet your idols." They say, "Those that can't do, teach." It's a good thing that "they" are almost always wrong.
Vincent D'Onofrio is an accomplished actor that isn't afraid to take the path least chosen in his roles. Taking routine roles on paper and turning them into iconic characters is sort of what he does. So, how would handle treating one of the single-most iconic characters of the Old West?
Naturally, the pupil-turned-teacher D'Onofrio returns to the director's chair for only the second time to give us not only a refreshing new take on the whole Billy the Kid mythology but perhaps the best one yet. It would be easy to think that the titular character of The Kid refers to William Bonney, but it's just as likely to refer to another character who finds himself mixed up in history.
In this Western, a young boy, Rio, and his sister find themselves on the run when he kills his father after beating his mother to death. Now, his Uncle is after them and the boy surreptitiously finds himself seeking advice and protection from Billy the Kid and his greatest adversary Sheriff Pat Garrett.
To be fair, I must admit that I am a sucker for any story that involves Billy the Kid. Much as they allude to in this film, he is a larger-than-life icon of a romanticized time that is as ripe for storytelling as any other period. Put simply, there's a reason that Billy the Kid is perhaps the most popular character in all of western films and that's because of our fascination with the story, whether or not any of it is true.
It is within this mythology of Billy the Kid that D'Onofrio chooses to set his tale of domestic abuse and familial violence. The dichotomy between the very real violence of the opening scene and the romanticized crimes of Billy the Kid provide quite the contrast as the film unfolds. The young boy initially seeks out the legendary anti-hero because of the tall tales that he has read but comes to realize that the two have more in common than he could ever imagine.
In many ways The Kid is a morality tale in which one is confronted with the repercussions of their actions and given a choice. We all know how it turned out for Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, but thankfully, Rio's future hasn't been set in stone yet and he must decide which path he will follow.
I need to take a minute to talk about the performance turned in by Ethan Hawke as Pat Garrett and Dane DeHaan. Ethan Hawke has enjoyed a youthful resurgence in his career and he is continually churning out amazing performances. His work in The Kid is no exception as he portrays the legendary lawman as both conflicted and grounded in the pursuit of his white whale. He brings a certain gravitas to the character that is often overlooked or rushed by other actors playing Garrett.
Dane DeHaan is just someone that has a certain creepiness in their performance and he channels it perfectly here. For starters, he completely embraces the rock star quality of Billy the Kid and doesn't shy away from letting the audience know that he's playing a larger-than-life icon and that's sort of the point. He is clearly having fun here and it shows in every scene that he is in.
Despite how amazing those two guys were in The Kid, there is one actor who upstages them both. That would Chris Pratt as the diabolical Uncle who pursues his niece and nephew relentlessly. Yes, I know. The loveable Chris Pratt is anything but in this movie and that's readily apparent from his first scene. There was a bit of a disconnect seeing someone as beloved as Pratt playing an entity of pure evil, but his performance is so good that the disconnect is short-lived and you're left shuddering at the sheer brilliance of his acting. Seriously, had you asked me before I saw The Kid if I would let him babysit my kids, I would have said yes without a pause. Now, I'm scared to let them shake his hand at a Marvel meet and greet, lest he summons Grant Cutler suddenly.
Finally, a huge helping of praise is deserved at the feet of Vincent D'Onofrio. I wasn't sure what to expect from him as a director, but the formidable actor proves that he is indeed a dual threat and I'm excited to see what the future brings. From shot selection to pacing, he makes wonderful choices that both captivate the audience and augment the story. There's one scene in particular where Rio gets an up close and personal view of a hanging that stands out. He frames this shot expertly and chooses to linger on the faces just long enough to evoke an emotional response with the audience. These are choices that veteran directors take decades to refine, but D'Onofrio proves that he's more than a one-trick pony.
If you enjoy westerns and aren't squeamish about your violence, then you should find plenty to like about The Kid. Tonally, there is a good balance, but be forewarned that the film is rated R for good reason. In other words, don't expect something as light as Young Guns.
The Kid is now available of Blu-ray and DVD.