MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘The Kid’ offers new take on the Billy the Kid legend


There have been dozens of films dedicated to telling and retelling the story of Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett. It’s a classic tale of two friends or at least acquaintances who find themselves on the opposite side of the law.

Like most movies based on true events, filmmakers dance around the facts to craft the movie they want to make and/or believe consumers want to see. Westerns are pieces of entertainment, not history books, and that’s certainly the case with this film.

In several Billy the Kid films, there’s not a lot of difference in the character and integrity of the outlaw and the lawman, other than one is wearing a badge and the other isn’t.

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The latest version “The Kid” delves into that same ink pot of moral ambiguity with the outlaw Billy (Dane DeHaan) and the sheriff Garrett (Ethan Hawke) both being men of violence and hate but still having a bit of compassion for an orphaned boy named Rio (Jake Schur) and his sister Sara (Leila George).

“The Kid” actually refers to Rio rather than Billy. On the lam from their abusive uncle Grant Cutler (Chris Pratt), Rio and Sara find themselves in the middle of Billy and Garrett’s feud after Billy’s gang and the sibling pick the same dilapidated barn to take shelter in during a storm.

Rio is enamored by the legend of Billy as well as the outlaw’s natural charisma, but he is also drawn to Garrett’s straight-forward approach. Though Garrett’s no saint, he is sort of the angle on Rio shoulder to Billy’s devil. The boy carries a dark secret that has him at odds with his uncle, and his choices of how to deal with it will set the course for his and sister’s future.

The film directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays a small role as a town sheriff, is a solid but unspectacular Western. The cast is excellent, but the film isn’t sure if it wants to be a serious drama or a flashier crowdpleaser in the vein of “Tombstone.” Because of that indecisive tone, the film gets gunned down in the crossfire.

Anyone who has seen more than a few Westerns would likely be able to predict the film’s climax, but I still enjoyed making my way through the movie to the expected end.

The performances do make the movie worthwhile. DeHaan was born to play Billy the Kid. His Billy is a nasty rattlesnake, but he plays him with just enough contrition to make the anti-hero attractive. Likewise, in Hawke’s Garrett, you can see that his life’s mission in now to atone for sins of the past, even if he has to cut corners to do it.

Pratt’s against-type turn as the vicious Cutler isn’t as nuanced as his castmate’s, but he imbues his character with enough eccentricities and wicked quirks to spice up the one-note role.

As Rio, Schur is solid as the conflicted young man who has fallen into horrible circumstances, while George is adequate in her underwritten part of Sara.

(R) 1 hr. 40 min.
Grade: B-

Classic Corner

To Kill a Mockingbird (Malco Razorback)

I not sure there’s a more perfectly constructed young adult novel than Harper Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and I certainly can’t think of a better film adaption of a novel than director Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck in his Academy Award-winning role as small-town, Southern lawyer and father Atticus Finch.

The Malco Razorback theater is holding two special showings of the film at 1 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The film might not hit hard enough for modern audiences. If it were released today, it would certainly be criticized for detailing the struggles of black man falsely accused of rape in Southern culture of the 1930s through the point of view of a white child.

In hindsight, such criticisms might be apt, but the film remains a touching portrait of a father who seeks to do right because it is the right thing to do as seen through the eyes of his daughter, Scout (Mary Badham), her brother Jem (Phillip Baker), and friend Dill (John Megna).

For adults the movie is a reminder that times were never as simple as daydream them to be, and for young viewers, the film is fine example that realistic heroes don’t wear capes, spit curls, and armor.