*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'The Kid with a Bike' was directed by the two French-speaking Dardenne brothers from Belgium. The film was shot in Belgium, in the town of Seraing, were the Dardennes held approximately 100 auditions and settled on an outstanding child actor neophyte, Thomas Doret, who plays the 10 year old protagonist, Cyril.
According to Wikipedia, the Dardenne brothers wanted to tell their story much like a fairy tale and chose not to develop many of the adult characters in the film. Hence, the portraits of the adults are quite sketchy. For example, we never find out much about Cyril's father except for the fact that he's broke and emotionally can't cope with the idea of taking care of a child. Similarly, Samantha, the hairdresser who adopts Cyril, doesn't have much of a back story and we mainly learn what she's about, vis-a-vis her relationship with the child.
While not without its problems, the film largely succeeds on the performance of young Mr. Doret, in the role of Cyril. The film's scenarists make it quite clear how devastating it can be for a young child to be rejected by a parent. The first thirty minutes of the film chronicle Cyril's failed attempt to reunite with his father after he runs away from a youth facility which houses rejected children. Cyril won't accept that his father has moved out of the apartment and has abandoned him. Through his tenacity he tracks him down but the father won't be honest with his son that he has no intention of seeing him again. With Samantha's intervention, the father finally tells Cyril the truth. The reaction is predictable: self-destructive, acting out behavior on the part of the rejected child.
There's a great scene of a portent of things to come when Cyril begins banging his head inside the car and Samantha must stop him. Later, Cyril runs away from home, not before stabbing Samantha, who is at a loss how to handle the out of control child. Cyril eventually ends up in the hands of a criminal, a local drug addict, who teaches him how to rob people. Cyril actually ends up assaulting a father and son with a baseball bat and knocks them out cold. The criminal tells Cyril to get lost but gives him some proceeds from the robbery which Cyril promptly brings to his father with the plan to help him. The father doesn't want to get in trouble and throws the money away and tells Cyril to get lost.
Now having been rejected by his drug addict mentor, and a second time by his father, Cyril returns to Samantha and begs her forgiveness. But first he's forced to apologize to his victims in family court (the father accepts Cyril's apology but the son refuses to meet with the 10 year old). The court hearing is resolved when Samantha agrees to pay restitution to the father and son, for their medical treatment.
The main part of the plot that feels contrived is the climax where the younger victim of Cyril's assault chases Cyril into a forested area. The boy throws a rock at Cyril, striking him and causing him to fall to the ground after he climbed up a tree. At first, it appears that Cyril has been killed due to the fall but miraculously regains consciousness, and then stoically pedals away on his bike. My problem with that whole scene is that I couldn't believe that the father (the victim of Cyril's bat attack) wouldn't prevent his son from going after Cyril, especially with the full knowledge that the boy did not accept the younger Cyril's apology (by not showing up at the Family Court hearing) and was so angry at him, that there was the possibility that he might resort to violence.
In addition to the aforementioned sketchy characterizations, 'The Kid With a Bike' makes awkward use of a short passage from a Beethoven Piano Concerto whenever the directors seek to highlight an emotional scene. It's always the same, repetitious musical passage, which doesn't feel organically integrated into those particular scenes which require particular emotional emphasis.
'The Kid With a Bike' still manages to be fairly absorbing as the Dardenne brothers ably depict the psychology of a young boy, who goes through stages of grief due to the rejection by a parent. In this particular case, Samantha's love turns the boy in a positive direction and after all the angst, it's nice to experience the heart-felt, happy ending.