MOVIE REVIEW OF “THE KID”

Infamous outlaws and noble lawmen are standard-issue characters in westerns.  “Don’t Go in the Woods” director Vincent D’Onofrio’s “The Kid” (*** OUT OF ****), ranks an above average, but derivative account of the relationship between Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett and notorious fugitive William H. Bonney, alias ‘Billy the Kid.’

Ironically, after you’ve seen about a half-hour of this evocative, R-rated, 100-minute horse opera, you will realize Billy the Kid isn’t the title character.

Instead, the eponymous personage is 14-year-old Rio Cutler (first-time actor Jake Schur) who has suffered many of the same setbacks that doomed William Bonney to an early grave on Boot Hill.  D’Onofrio and “Glass Castle” scenarist Andrew Lanham must admire Sam Peckinpah’s classic film “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” (1973) because their tale covers roughly the same period of Billy’s life.

Unfortunately, “The Kid” doesn’t reveal anything we haven’t already been told about Bonney.  Nevertheless, this slickly-produced coming-of-age, law & order oater depicts a juvenile on the cusp of adulthood who discovers the difference between right and wrong.

“The Kid” unfolds with our 14-year old protagonist trying to save his mother from his abusive father, Bill Cutler (Tait Fletcher of “Jonathan Hex”), who beats her to death.  Rio brandishes a six-gun and blasts his dastardly dad into the next world.  Rio and his older sister, Sara (Leila George of “Mortal Engines”), head for Santa Fe where they’ve been told their mother had a trustworthy friend.

Bill’s angry, despicable brother, Grant Cutler (Chris Pratt of “Passengers”), pursues them with his own posse.  Grant is hellbent to exact vengeance for his brother’s demise.  Meantime, Rio and Sara have a rendezvous with destiny.  By chance, they cross trails with Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan of “Chronicle”) and his gang at a dilapidated line shack.

 Writer & director Sam Peckinpah had a comparable scene in his classic “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid,” when Billy and his gang awakened to find themselves cornered in a similar shack.  Eventually, Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke of “Training Day”) and his heavily armed deputies flush the Kid and his gang out, after they shoot the line shack to smithereens.

During their brief time together, Billy and Rio realize they share much in common.  Indeed, Rio reminds Billy of his own wayward youth and descent into violence.  Reluctantly, Billy and the other three gunmen with him surrender.  While Garrett and his deputies are cuffing Billy, they encounter Rio and Sara.  The two children wind up riding to Santa Fe in the same wagon with Billy and his gang.

Along the way, Billy assures Rio that he will help him out.  Eventually, our impressionable protagonist learns that Billy is not a man of his word.  Garrett leaves one of Billy’s gang to swing from the gallows in Santa Fe, while Rio and Sara search for the trusted friend of their mother who may help them. No sooner have they found this friend than our hero and heroine find themselves at the mercy of Uncle Grant.

Grant Cutler abducts Sara and vows to kill her if Rio interferes with his plans.  Worse, he tells Rio that he plans to break Sara in to become a prostitute.  Off gallops Cutler in a swirl of dust with Sara.  Desperately, Rio steals a horse and rides to Billy. By the time Rio reaches Lincoln, New Mexico, Billy has been shackled to the floor in a second-story jail cell to await his day in the court.

Meanwhile, Garrett saddles up to ride out and finish collecting taxes, so he leaves two deputies to guard Billy.  “The Kid” re-enacts the most celebrated scene from Billy the Kid westerns, including the Marlon Brando classic “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961), when he engineers his jailbreak.

Billy assaults Deputy James Bell (newcomer Joseph Santos) on the stairs after he had complained about needing to relieve himself in the outhouse. Bell’s relief deputy, wise acre Bob Olinger (Adam Baldwin of “Full Metal Jacket”), has escorted the other prisoners across the street for lunch.

Billy disarms Bell, shoots him in the back, and scrambles upstairs to unlock his leg irons. Seizing a double-barrel shotgun, Billy blows the top of Olinger’s head off in a splatter of brains as the deputy approaches the jail.

Once he has attained his freedom, Billy welshes on his promise to Rio and skedaddles out of Lincoln. Later, Rio makes a clean breast of his crimes to Sheriff Garrett, and the sympathetic lawman accompanies the youth to rescue his ill-treated sister from the scurrilous Cutler.

Despite its predictable plot, “The Kid” boasts many virtues. The setting is none other than scenic New Mexico where “Project Almanac” lenser Matthew J. Lloyd has photographed this sagebrusher in picturesque widescreen compositions.

D’Onofrio likes to let the camera linger in long shots on those sprawling, wide-open spaces.  Basically, “The Kid” resembles a western from the 1950s.  The firearms are genuine, and an adequate number of gunfights enliven the action.

The top-notch cast, featuring Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, and Chris Pratt, delivers impeccable performances. You’ve never seen Chris Pratt as he is here.  He isn’t cast as the leading man, and his unsavory character has nothing in common with either his “Guardian of the Galaxy” or his “Jurassic World” heroes.  Specifically, he plays a repugnant villain!

“The Kid” may qualify as one of the few Billy the Kid westerns that presents the legendary outlaw in an unsavory light.  Chris Pratt claims top honors as the thoroughly pugnacious Grant Cutler.  Ethan Hawke makes a strong impression as the gruff but conscientious Pat Garrett.

Dan DeHaan attires himself as closely as possible to duplicate a vintage 1880s’ tintype of William Bonney, and he portrays Billy as an arrogant psychopath.  “The Kid” represents Vincent D’Onofrio second directorial effort, but nothing about either this western or D’Onofrio’s flair for orchestrating exciting gunfights is sophomoric.

Lanham contributes some memorable, philosophical lines of dialogue about survival on the frontier.  If you haven’t enjoyed a worthwhile western in ages, “The Kid” is a surefire bet.

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