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Movie Review 'The Kid'

Vincent D'Onofrio makes exceptional feature directing debut with gritty 'The Kid'.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Vincent D'Onofrio's feature directorial debut, The Kid is about Billy the Kid. After all, Billy 'The Kid,' the western legend does figure prominently in the plot, and is played with fervor by Dane Dehaan, but you would be mistaken. Indeed, the kid of the title is actually a young boy who murders his abusive father and goes on the run with his older sister, fleeing from their equally violent and abusive Uncle, played by Chris Pratt. 

The Kid stars Jake Shur as Rio and Leila George as his virginal older sister Sara. Rio and Sara are fleeing for their lives after having seen their father murder their mother, prompting Rio to murder his father. The siblings wind up in an abandoned cabin on the road to Santa Fe, New Mexico, that just so happens to be the spot where Billy "The Kid" (Dane Dehaan) and his gang decide to hole up when they are found by Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and his deputies. 

Following a brief showdown, Billy and his gang surrender and the siblings are invited by Garrett to catch a ride to Santa Fe. Garrett seems to inherently know that the kids are fleeing something horrible but he doesn't push for the truth. He intends to drop them in Santa Fe where he will leave behind outlaw Dave Rudabaugh to be hanged. 

On the trail of the siblings is their violent, belligerent, uncle, Grant Cutler (Chris Pratt). Cutler does not care why the siblings murdered his brother. He simply seeks revenge. When he finds the kids in Santa Fe, he takes Sara as a prize and leaves Rio to fend for himself in the harshness of an old west town where he has no family and no one other than Billy the Kid knows his secret. 

Billy the Kid has another secret—he knows where Grant has taken Sara and if Rio will bust him out of Pat Garrett's jail, he will help him free his sister. This is where the plot takes a turn and where I will leave the plot description in order to avoid spoilers. I have only given you a small glimpse of this rich plot which has some really terrific complexities. 

For a first time director, Vincent D'Onfrio demonstrates a veteran's confidence. It makes sense that a veteran actor with nearly 30 years of experience would be confident in front of the camera but his confidence behind it appears to equal his star presence. D'Onofrio maintains tone and pace and despite the seeming bait and switch of the title—the movie isn't about the western legend we know—we don't mind the twist because the movie is so damned compelling. 

Ethan Hawke's acting hot streak continues with another master class of intensity and charisma. Hawke is fiery and complex. His Pat Garrett is a dedicated lawman who feels pangs of guilt over hunting down his former friend but not so much that he would bend the law for him. Garrett believes in the rules but has a strong moral compass that comes into play in the strongest moments of The Kid.

The promise of Dane Dehaan as a movie star has never been met but he does demonstrate here the chops of a good character actor. He may never have the chance to be a leading man again after the flop that was his big budget sci-fi flick, Valerian, but he has the potential to be a sensational scene stealer in the vein of a Willem Dafoe or Ben Foster. 

The Kid is brutally violent and uncompromising. The film is bleak but purposefully so, never drifting into the ugly realm of pornographic dreariness. The film doesn't set out to be exploitatively bleak—director D'Onofrio smartly allows the story to dictate the terms of the sad state of these characters without force-feeding the audience the kind of harsh brutality that some filmmakers mistake for atmosphere

The Kid is a terrific mash-up of old school western and modern, Peckinpah style western. It plays in the realm of movies like John Hillcoat's The Proposition and S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk—modern, violent westerns that combine western legend with a mature truthfulness that while violent, remain appealing, even entertaining, in their uncompromising grit. 

Sean Patrick
Sean Patrick

I have been a film critic for more than 17 years and worked professionally, as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association for the past 6 years. My favorite movie of all time is The Big Lebowski because it always feels new. 

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