"The Kid" is a new take on an old tale without much new to say
The Kid is a well-cast but uneven Western about a young boy who must decide what kind of man he will become as he bears witness to the last days of the famous outlaw Billy the Kid.
After murdering his own father in an attempt to save his mother’s life, fourteen-year-old Rio Cutler and his older sister, Sara, escape the clutches of their vengeful Uncle and head for Santa Fe to start a new life. Along the way, they’re found by a gang of outlaws led by Billy the Kid. The outlaws are captured by Billy’s nemesis and former associate, Sheriff Pat Garrett, and Rio and Sara are taken along for the ride.
Dane DeHaan is well cast as Billy the Kid, being possibly the closest approximation to what the historical William H. Bonney actually looked like to appear on screen thus far. Ethan Hawke plays Sheriff Pat Garret, the man tasked with bringing Billy to justice. Both are accomplished actors who slip effortlessly into the skin of their characters and do well with the material they’re given.
The most surprising casting choice is Chris Pratt as the villainous uncle, Grant Cutler. While many viewers might find it off-putting to see Pratt playing a heel, he actually does a good job of transforming into the depraved uncle. Pratt even manages to be menacing as he sneers his way through his final monologue. It’s a good bit of characterization and allows Pratt to have some fun with the character, but it seems out of place as it doesn’t really connect to what’s happening in the story.
The Kid is a fairly historical take on the last days of Billy the Kid and uses the fictional characters of the Cutler family as a device to frame these events in a moral context. Comparison’s are drawn between both Rio and Billy the Kid as well as Rio and Pat Garret. What will Rio choose, a life of crime and self-interest, or a life of valor and duty? In this context, the audience is asked to understand Billy’s motivations for his life of crime, but not to forgive it.
The theme of the film seems to be that everyone has a choice about how to live their life, despite what they’ve done or what’s been done to them. The Kid suggests that violence is only justified in the defense of the people, and in this way feels like it doesn’t really have anything new to say.
In the end, The Kid has great moments, but the highs are bogged down by the lows of a lackluster script that squanders its own potential. Though the cast is rounded out by a handful of great actors like Adam Baldwin and Vincent D’Onofrio, it feels more like a showcase of performances than a tightly wound narrative. Unfortunately, the film works better in theory than it does on the screen.
The Kid is now playing in select theaters.