Renowned actor Vincent D’Onofrio flexes his directing muscle for the first time in almost 10 years with his Western tale The Kid. Part fiction and part true-life, it tells the story of a boy named Rio (Jake Schur) who becomes embroiled in the heated cat-and-mouse chase between Sheriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan).
We first meet 14-year-old Rio at his home on a summer’s evening in 1880’s Southwestern America, trying to save his mother from his abusive father by shooting him dead. Rio’s sister Sara (Leila George) rushes over to aid their mother, but she swiftly succumbs to her injuries. After their violent uncle Grant (Chris Pratt) shows up, enraged to find that his brother has been killed, Rio and Sara flee into the night. As the elder sibling, Sara tries to comfort her distraught little brother and implores him to stay strong: “I need you to picture who you’re gonna be when all of this is over”, she tells him firmly but lovingly.
Rio probably had a vision of his future self in his head at that moment, but was unaware of the experiences he was about to go through that would undoubtedly shape him. The Kid is almost like a coming-of-age drama in that sense. It follows Rio as he meets lawmen and outlaws galore, getting caught up in the conflict between Garrett and Billy while he and Sara attempt to reach Santa Fe. Rio instantly connects with famous fugitive Billy when he discovers that he, too, lost his mother when he was a teenager. Soon after meeting the young runaways, Billy and his gang are caught by Garrett and company, who agree to let Rio and Sara travel with them. Surrounded by men on opposite sides of the law, impressionable Rio finds himself in a moral quandary. Which side should he ally himself with? What kind of man does he want to be?
The answers are far from being black and white, and Schur portrays this incertitude with sincerity and maturity. For a young actor who appears to have just one acting credit so far, he holds his own extremely well among his experienced co-stars. Equally memorable is DeHaan as Billy, a character who, behind his cheeky and cocky façade, is unexpectedly remorseful and angsty.
In spite of its interesting (male) characters, the film has some weak plot points that go unexplained and appear arbitrary. In one particular scene, Rio and Sara visit a brothel in search of a woman named Mirabel (Jenny Gabrielle) who is said to have known their mother. Very little information is given beyond that once they meet, and their reunion is so fleeting that it becomes evident that its only purpose was to set up the next plot point.
Unfortunately, the film’s three (yes, three!) female characters are treated in the same throwaway manner. Sara begins as an autonomous character, the caring elder sister who leads the way, but is ultimately fridged once Grant takes her hostage and forces her into prostitution. In true fridging fashion, her rescue becomes Rio’s primary mission and paves the way for the rest of his emotional journey. The aforementioned Mirabel is featured in just one scene and is given no backstory, or narrative purpose, whatsoever. And finally, there’s Billy the Kid’s pregnant girlfriend Paulita whose role is just that: the pregnant girlfriend.
While its treatment of women is backward and unsurprising, the film’s visuals are certainly unexpected. Contradictory to its gritty, dark poster, the colours of the film are rich and full of life. In lieu of mass bloodshed, of which there is relatively little, there are some truly beautiful establishing shots of the Southwestern plains, which look like they belong in a travel magazine.
As it stands among its recent Western predecessors, The Kid is somehow both refreshing and retrograde. Its rejection of Tarantino-esque gratuitous bloody violence in favour of heartfelt conversations and character complexity does make it enjoyable for the more squeamish viewer. However, its utter disregard for its female characters lets it down and leaves a lot to be desired.
The Kid is out on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD on June 3rd
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.