The Kid (***1/2) is a good first step

The Kid – 2019

Director Vincent D’Onofrio
Screenplay Andrew Lanham
Starring Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, Jake Schur, Leila George, Chris Pratt

The Kid starts out with the death of two parents. The mother at the hands of the father, the father at the hand of the son, Rio Cutler (Schur). Almost immediately the father’s brother, Grant (Pratt) comes into the scene. Before he can kill his nephew, Rio and his sister Sara (George) escape into the night into the hard land of the Southwest U.S., eventually stealing a horse and holding up in an abandoned homestead.

This turns out to be the hideout of Billy “The Kid” Bonney (DeHaan), who listens to the story of the two and wins over the young boy with a sympathetic ear. Rio feels that he has an ally in the hard world. It’s a feeling that sticks with him, even after his new idol is captured by Pat Garrett (Hawke).

The story alternates between the perspectives of Rio and Bonney, with Garrett and the gross and angry Grant touching down occasionally to bring calm or chaos, depending on the perspective.

Much of the story hinges on Rio’s belief that Bonney will be the savior for he and his sister. The lengths the boy will go to in order to procure Bonney’s help is startling when compared to the seemingly easier path of going to the stark authority of Garrett. The groundwork of fear had been set for him not to trust Garrett, though, and this makes things unnecessarily hard for both siblings.

D’Onofrio’s direction makes us believe things from the young boy’s perspective. Hawke’s Garrett is obviously the better man, but he’s a hard man with no amount of flair like his younger, more vibrant counterpart. Rio believes that the other “Kid” sees his plight and will help him in his efforts against Grant. We know this can’t happen, but we understand why Rio does not.

The acting is strong throughout, save for Pratt’s underdrawn villain. We know he’s a bad dude, but have very little to show us why he is, save for one awkward speech that seems shoehorned into the climax. Shur and D’Onofrio’s daughter, George give an innocence befitting their position. DeHaan has a presence to match the legend and manages to put a reality into the performance. The best

Hawke gives easily the best performance of the film and possibly of his career as Pat Garrett. The character has always been seen as more a footnote of history in films, aside from perhaps Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid. Hawke’s Garrett is vital and filled with a clear sense of right and wrong. It’s just another in a long line of malleable performances by an actor who’s become great without any fanfare. The film is worth watching just for his performance alone.

As a director, D’Onofrio has the eye for an occasional beautiful perspective. It’s the action scenes where he could use some work. Two major confrontations – the beginning and the stairs scene in Grant’s saloon – are made confusing, mostly by perspective, editing and questionable camera work. The final shootout, while predictable, is riveting, in no small part because we’re allowed to see Hawke act his ass off.

The Kid is a good film with a limited scope. D’Onofrio manages to keep things within the realm of the legend as we know it and add a little something extra. Here’s one vote to see the great actor work a little more on becoming a better director.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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