The Lone Ranger
Director(s): Gore Verbinksi
Writer(s): Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jul 3, 2013 - Wide
Someone in town always asked “Who was that masked man?” in the Lone Ranger radio and TV series. The audience watching Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger might be asking the same thing as the film’s tone has multiple personalities. From light humour to Sam Peckinpah-worthy Western violence, the new Disney version runs the gamut of tone in a sprawling 2 hour and 29 minute running time.
The framing device of the story sees a young boy hearing the story of the masked lawman from an ancient Tonto (Johnny Depp) at a Wild West exhibition in the 1930s. John Reid (Armie Hammer), an Eastern-educated lawyer returns home to Colby, Texas, where his brother Dan (James Badge Dale), a Texas Ranger, lives with his wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), John’s former sweetheart. The train that’s bringing him home is also carrying two fugitives, a Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp) and the murderous gang leader Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Cavendish is sprung by his gang, and the Texas Rangers who go after him are slaughtered. Tonto helps John Reid, the surviving Ranger, create a new identity and both men reluctantly team up to bring justice to their world.
The film never quite knows what it wants to be. It’s a PG-13 film with a body count that rivals a Tarantino film and a villain that eats a man’s heart. It features a Native American sidekick who gets the majority of laughs while his tribe faces genocide. It has the thrills and spills of an action flick, the flesh and iron horses of a Western, and the themes of murder, betrayal, greed and ethnic cleansing of a historical drama examining the Old West. The titular hero spends most of his time not being heroic, but stumbling into any of his victories like Inspector Clouseau in a stetson, while Tonto spends a lot of his time mocking him.
Though the film is gritty and realistic in some moments, both Tonto and the Lone Ranger are as indestructible as superheroes, a fact explained away by the fact that Tonto is mystic and Reid is a spirit walker, a man who has survived death and cannot be killed.
Depp gets top billing here and with the amount of screen time he gets the film should have been called Tonto: Featuring the Lone Ranger. Depp plays Tonto as a quirky, offbeat and sometimes off-putting man. He has a serious mission to avenge the slaughter of his family, but has the same comic sensibilities as Captain Jack Sparrow in Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, trading the bandanas and earrings for face paint and a dead crow on his head. Hammer has a heroic stature and a chiselled chin but instead of dominating in the title role, he comes across like the hapless lead in a comedy of errors. There are flashes of chemistry in the Lone Ranger and Tonto’s reluctant pairing, but the two weave in and out of being perfect franchise material, a desire you can almost feel the producers begging for.
William Fichtner is cold-blooded evil as Cavendish, while Tom Wilkinson’s Cole, a railroad tycoon is all cold cash and empire building. Barry Pepper, who just keeps racking up great performances, plays a Cavalry officer on the wrong side of history, while Ruth Wilson plays the sweet and feisty love interest who’s equally adept as the men when it comes to handling a gun. Helena Bonham Carter’s role is just slightly larger than a cameo and answers any questions you’ve ever had about one-legged madams and marksmanship.
The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli captures the wide open spaces and relentless attack of the desert. He shoots the action scenes with a flair that reminds you of classic Westerns, Buster Keaton comedies and those scenes are done in a way that almost makes you forget how much of it must be CG effects.
In the last half hour or so, the film finally begins to click and we’re cheering for the Lone Ranger and Tonto to succeed in their quest for justice. That’s about two hours too late though. I wanted the film to succeed — the talent is all there — but ultimately it’s betrayed by a script that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Given as the current generation isn’t as invested in the Lone Ranger and Westerns as they are in superheroes, this film’s franchise hopes may have left the station.