Once upon a time in the West an old man claiming to be William H. Bonney, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, sought to hire a lawyer to get a pardon for his crimes. The lawyer's convinced Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Pat Garrett decades before and so this old man couldn't possibly be the famed outlaw. So he asks the old man if he has any evidence...any scars.
And the immenseness begins.
The first thing to note is that yes, this is the second film in the two-part series, but I actually saw the second part first, because that was the one on TV at the time, and back in those days we didn't have the internet and DVDs and Netflix so we took what was given. And Emilio Estevez was in it and the yoof nowadays probably don't realise how big a star he was back then if they've even heard of him. Anyway, I digress.
Baby-faced Billy and his gang head into town after Billy gets shot in the leg after a night in the dunes of the Wild West. Though he's given a warm welcome by friends, it becomes obvious he's too well-known and there are too few places he can hide now with that target on his back. So when Governer Lew Wallace heads into town offering him a meeting about the men who killed Billy's old employer (back in Young Guns), Billy accepts, demanding a pardon in return for testifying. Shockingly he gets an agreement - and a nice piece of cake - under the guise of him being 'arrested', and is taken into the local jail still believing he's going to get his wish. But it was a ruse, and Billy got conned.
Still, what can a guy with big wrists and small hands do but escape, and take his gang to breakout some old mates in the local jail pit? And of course they'll also eventually end up in a brothel, cause obvs, this is the Wild West.
Emilio Estevez, who was part of the famous Brat Pack of the 80s, was born to play Billy the Kid. Youthful, charming, flirty and handy with a pistol or six, Estevez brings out the fun and flighty nature of Billy, even to the edge of arrogance that endangers his friends. And that laugh, man. At this point in the story, Billy's famous across the country, a thorn up the backside of anyone claiming "authority" and a bit of an arrogant twat who has seriously started to believe his own hype. Estevez seems to have had a whale of a time in this role and I think it's one of the reasons I love the film so much.
Other notables in the film of the 80s school of Hollywood include 'ole Kiefer Sutherland (obviously), who was also in Young Guns, and whose civilised teacher Doc Skurlock manages to sink back into the old gunslinging ways, if not with a bit of pushing, until he gets his unfortunate "heroic" send-off. Christian Slater plays "Arkansas" Dave Rudabaugh, who's hilariously annoying, constantly trying to swipe the leadership from Billy, and tries his best to piss off Jose Chavez y Chavez at every opportunity. Lou Diamond Phillips returns as Chavez, who brings a calming and more spiritual atmosphere to the gang, is well respected, and will take a hunting knife in the arm and live. Oh and Viggo Mortensen pre-Aragorn pops up too!
The infamous Pat Garrett is played here by William Peterson (Young Guns was a different actor) and though he pulls off a great performance, I think that the transition from Pat leaving the gang and being turned to become Billy's nemesis happened a little too easily. Garrett comes across as really loyal to Billy right up until the point he's offered the Sheriff's badge, then suddenly turns into the enemy. Something seems like it was missing, or probably chopped from the final cut, which in turn seems to wind up the film a little too nonchalantly. Though I read Garrett really did take a writer with him on the trail of Billy the Kid, which is on my list of things to read.
Before ending, I think Jenny Wright who played Jane Greathouse was just fabulous. When Billy and the gang hide out in the little town of White Oaks, she's running an upmarket whore house. Servicing the boys whilst letting them hide out, her brothel soon becomes the scene of the shooting of a lawman, blamed on Billy, but in this film actually by the townspeople. When Garrett comes to town, and sets the brothel on fire, Jane responds by marching naked out the brothel while it burns behind her, climbing onto her horse like Lady Godiva, and telling White Oaks they can kiss her arse. Then she just goes and opens another whore house. Hah! Just fabulous.
I'm not totally au fait with the true history of The Kid and his gang/s but on a light search some of the incidents in the film are reported to have happened in some form, and others certainly embellished or invented. Though, much like other films taken from history (may I mention Cool Runnings), it uses the information it gleans most entertaining to drive its narrative. In this case a fun, boys with guns shoot-em-up adventure, which winds down as a darker, more mature historical moral message as one by one Billy's gang is depleted by death or deception.
Whether Billy the Kid really was killed by Pat Garrett or not, the Wild West and its crazy murderous figureheads continue to suck us mere modern mortals in.