There’s just something about the Western genre that has given it such an enduring appeal, across generations around the world. So much so, films just keep being made that transport viewers back in time, to the dusty streets and the honky-tonks and bars – emblematic in the release of The Kid, directed by Vincent D’Onofrio, and telling the fabled story of Billy the Kid and Sheriff Pat Garrett.
Looking at this world through the eyes of a young boy, in many respects, this child represents the viewer; wide-eyed, blissful and with a near-romanticised view on the more dangerous way of living out in the American Midwest. The term outlaw may have been met with fear back then, but has taken on a term synonymous with cinema, and this film very much thrives in this notion.
So what keeps bringing us back? Perhaps it’s the simplistic nature of these endeavours. Without the tropes and beats of a complex thriller, instead there’s something very basic, in an endearing way, about these narratives, which so often just pits good versus evil. Of course there are somewhat questionable politics, traditionally, as to who cinema has decided are the good guys and the villains, as so many of us grew up idolising cowboys, who we perhaps now, with the benefit of historical accuracy, can deem to be the intruders – but it paved the way for a cinematic landscape that was just very easy to understand and indulge in.
Or maybe it’s this nostalgic perspective which keeps the genre alive, as Westerns would so often be on the telly, playing in your parent’s kitchen on a breezy Sunday afternoon, and we’d watch it, and then head out to the park, using our fingers as guns and pretending to duel. We’d propose to our friends to meet us for a standoff at midnight to see who the fasted gunslinger was. What we of course meant was meet me by the swings at ten past three and we can see who puts their hands up first (and subsequently, who can pretend to die in the most convincing manner).
This relationship with the genre has led to filmmakers – like D’Onofrio, still making these films. Cinema is a playful exercise, it is, by its very nature, the notion of make-believe, and you could argue that filmmakers are just big kids who never quite grew up, and the fact films like The Kid are still being made is testament to this fact. We have a romanticised view on this genre, and that won’t ever go away.
There’s also the fascination that derives from stepping back in time. This could also be said of medieval productions, just take Game of Thrones – there’s an intrigue and comfortability of sorts that comes from emotional connections with those from a different period. Westerns play on very human traits, and the fact we can draw parallels to intrinsic human emotions, be it greed, love, hate, things we feel we own now, but it’s something we’ve never lost.
It’s just exciting cinema, it can be long and laborious, often pensive and slow-burning, but it’s like watching test match cricket. It’s always just sort of on in the background, and it feels like home. For that reason, The Kid is worth a go – not to mention the notorious nature of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, two people who have become so ingrained in cinematic history you sort of forget they were once real. It’s proper cinema, and has recently transcended the big screen, proven just in how popular Red Dead Redemption 2 has been – one of the best, most successful video games of all time. There really is just something about this era.
The Kid is available on Digital, Blu-ray & DVD from 3 June. You can watch it on CHILI here: The Kid