For those looking for a good old-fashioned western movie, The Kid is probably their cup of tea. The movie, directed by veteran actor Vincent D’Onofrio, follows a young boy as he tries to navigate the moral ambiguities of life in America’s Old West.
Set in New Mexico territories in 1879, fifteen-year old Rio (Jake Schur) and his older sister, Sara (Leila George), are on the run after they kill their drunk and abusive father. Even though the killing would seem to be justified, their uncle (Chris Pratt) vows to avenge his brother’s death. He organizes a posse of henchmen to track them down.
As Rio and Sara flee, they find themselves caught up in Pat Garrett’s (Ethan Hawke) legendary hunt for the outlaw Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan). Billy offers them safety–an outlaw with a heart, so we think–establishing a heartfelt bond with Rio. Despite warnings from Sara Rio’s affection toward Billy grows. Ultimately, in order to save what is left of his family, Rio has to make a decision between the no-nonsense justice of law, represented by Pat Garrett, and the outlaw (with a heart), represented Billy the Kid.
The American Old West has been a fertile ground for authors and filmmakers since the beginning of the industry (probably The Great Train Robbery in 1903). The American frontier was uncompromising, a toxic cauldron of clashing values, competing cultures, big personalities, and laws only as good as those that could be enforced. Frontiersmen (and women), but their nature, are adventurous pragmatists. D’Onofrio honors the tradition and the genre. The Kid does an good job of putting Rio in the cross hairs of these conflicts as he tries to find his own compass at a point where he must decide whether to remain a boy or become a man.
The decision to frame Rio’s choices and challenges in the context of the Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid rivalry was a good one. Both figures carry enough baggage, historically and within the fiction of the movie, to make Rio’s choices unclear and difficult even if he does have a clear moral compass.
While The Kid doesn’t break new ground for Western movies, the film is engaging, the performances earnest, and the plot well scripted. The movie’s pace feels more like a drama than a thriller, but those enjoying the Western genre will find it a satisfying two hours.