Billy the Kid is directed by William A. Graham and written by Gore Vidal. It stars Val Kilmer, Wilford Brimley, Julie Carmen, Duncan Regehr, Albert Salmi and Ned Vaughn. Music is by Laurence Rosenthal and cinematography by Denis Lewiston.
Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid is no under seen classic, yes in terms of historical content it has much going for it, with Val Kilmer's portrayal of the legendary outlaw adhering to what historical notices tell us he was really like. However, whilst Vidal and the makers deserved credit for keeping the film sombre in tone, with a refusal to pander to action embellishments, there's the cold facts that it's pretty dull in execution, cheap in production value and lacking in complex characterisation.
Narratively it's interesting if you are someone who hasn't seen other films involving Billy the Kid, but if you have then there's nothing new here to mark it down as essential stuff. In fact this production is sandwiched by both Young Guns movies in 88 and 90, which in spite of the mixed reaction both received, also cover the historical basis of Billy Bonney's exploits from the murder of John Tunstall to his demise at the hands of his one time best friend, Pat Garrett (Regehr).
Vidal's own teleplay The Death of Billy the Kid was made into The Left Handed Gun in 1958. Starring Paul Newman as Billy, Vidal was known to be annoyed at how his writing was transformed onto the screen for that production. Which explains why this 89 version was made with Vidal's smiling blessings. Good for him that he got satisfaction, even if The Left Handed Gun is a considerably better movie. The Newman movie is easy to recommend to Western fans, this one not so. Unless it's your first foray into Billy the Kid filmic portrayals or you be a devout Kilmer fan that is. 5/10
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