A New Western Worth the Money Is Playing in Theaters

'The Kid,' starring Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt, offers a unique telling of the famous story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett

Image Credit: Screenshot, YouTube / Lionsgate Movies

“It doesn’t matter what’s true. It matters the story they tell when you’re gone,” Pat Garrett, the lawman famous for shooting Billy the Kid, says at one point in “The Kid,” a new western currently playing in theaters.

Garrett (played by Ethan Hawke, pictured above left) says that line as he’s talking to an out-of-control uncle (played brilliantly by Chris Pratt, above right), who is holding his nephew hostage.

Up until now, the most well-known telling of Billy the Kid’s reckless ways in the Old West is likely 1988’s “Young Guns,” one of the signature films to feature multiple Brat Pack actors (Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, etc.). “Young Guns” never really stuck to historical accuracy. Instead, it was a chance to let some of the most in-demand actors at the time team up and play dress up. Full of winks, anachronisms and ’80s flash, it essentially sanitized the Old West and made it more accessible for people who thought even John Wayne westerns went too far.

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As undeniable as its merits are, it was always a bit of a disappointment that the signature film about Billy the Kid was a Brat Pack movie. The outlaw’s tale is far more interesting than Emilio Estevez’s smirking and quipping could ever suggest.

Now we have a new and noteworthy telling of Billy the Kid’s story on film, courtesy of director Vincent D’Onofrio, who is primarily known for his acting in TV shows like “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and movies like “Jurassic World.”

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D’Onofrio has gathered plenty of talented friends together for “The Kid” — and each of them gets a moment to shine in what is one of the most unique takes on Billy the Kid’s story to hit the big screen.

Ethan Hawke, who starred with D’Onofrio in “The Magnificent Seven,” among other films, gives layers to Pat Garrett that no previous actor really has. And Dane DeHaan manages to capture the contagious rebel spirit of Billy the Kid, as well as his heartlessness and manipulative ways.

Adam Baldwin, D’Onofrio’s co-star in “Full Metal Jacket,” shows up as an overconfident lawman determined to instill fear in Billy the Kid.

And shining above all the rest is Chris Pratt, another “Magnificent Seven” alumnus, who finally gets a chance to play more than a good-hearted, quippy hero. Pratt disappears into the role of the film’s antagonist here. He’s truly frightening when he’s on the screen — and one can only hope he continues to fit roles like this in among his “Jurassic World” and Marvel movies in the future.

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“The Kid” tells of a young boy (played by Jake Schur) who runs away from home with his sister after he murders his father in an attempt to save his mother. The siblings fear for their life as their vicious uncle (Pratt) promises to avenge his brother’s death.

The siblings eventually find themselves in the company of Billy the Kid as he’s on the run from Pat Garrett.

Intertwining a family drama about domestic violence and shifting moral codes with the dark tale of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett is a great move and partly what makes this film so worthy of attention, especially when yet another bloated, CGI-heavy Marvel movie with no personality — “Captain Marvel” — sits atop the box office.

The tale of a family ripped apart by violence juxtaposed with the Billy and Garrett story helps illuminate different views of violence, the law and celebrity. Both Billy and Garrett act as potential mentors to the young boy who is running for his life; and seeing both men in the father figure role brings out their characters strongly.

It’s a film that finally gives Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett a story worthy of their legends.

“The Kid” has its limitations, which likely stem from the film’s limited budget. The few CG effects here seem too animated; and the script needed one more punch-up. Too much of the dialogue and story’s themes rest on the shoulders of the young Jake Schur, a fine actor but one a bit out of his element in the heavier scenes.

The film also loses a lot of air when Pratt disappears for a large chunk of the film — likely because he had limited shooting days.

These flaws are minor, though, compared to everything “The Kid” does right.

It’s a film that finally gives Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett a story worthy of their legends.

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