The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenwriter(s): Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 149 Minutes
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), The Lone Ranger stars Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as a masked man of the law who, with Native American spirit warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp), fights greed and corruption in the American Old West.
Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and based on the 1930s radio serial, Verbinski’s adaptation of The Lone Ranger marks the first theatrical film featuring the character in over 30 years. Written by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) and Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the duo behind the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Lone Ranger is a big-budget ($250 million) western that serves as an origin story to one of America’s classic pop culture icons.
John Reid (Hammer) is a by the book, city-educated lawyer who arrives in the small town of Colby, Texas town in 1869 hoping to bring justice to the Wild West. After a run-in with the depraved Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner) and his gang, John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale), a Texas Ranger, is murdered and a mortally wounded John is rescued by Tonto, who begrudgingly becomes his partner in seeking retribution.
According to Tonto, Reid has been reborn as a “spirit walker,” a man who’s been to the other side; a man who cannot be killed in battle. Tonto points out that people think he’s dead and advises that it’s “better to stay that way.” Like any true superhero, Reid wears a mask to hide his true identity and becomes an avenger who “rides for justice.”
Tonto is as idiosyncratic as any character on Depp’s résumé. His Native American name should be “Great Stone Face” as he spends most of the film channeling Buster Keaton’s deadpan expression and signature physical comedy. Cap’n Sparrow trades in mascara, beads, and jangly jewelry for KISS makeup, feathers, and a dead crow hat. Depp relies on the same slapstick gags and stunts he used in the Pirates films, just replace sailing vessels and swashbucklers with steam locomotives and outlaws. At one point in the movie, Cap’n Jack Tonto kicks a dead horse to confirm that it is, in fact, no longer living. I wonder if the irony of beating a dead horse is lost on Depp, who seems content to play the same colorful, quirky oddballs for the rest of his career.
As for Hammer, The Lone Ranger is his first lead role. Known for his peformance as the Winklevoss twins in David Fincher’s The Social Network and a supporting role in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, Verbinski’s action-adventure is the actor’s first true test as a quasi-leading man and he does a decent job sharing the spotlight with Depp’s spirit warrior. Like Django Unchained, where Jamie Foxx’s titular slave turned gunslinger takes a backseat to numerous supporting characters, the heroic lead is secondary to the sidekick in The Lone Ranger. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone of course, considering Johnny Depp is playing the sidekick – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was more concerned with Depp’s Mad Hatter than that girl who fell down the rabbit hole.
Speaking of Wonderland, Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd, Dark Shadows) joins frequent collaborator Depp as Red Harrington, the proprietor of a brothel with an ornate ivory prosthetic leg that conceals a double-barrel shotgun. Bonham Carter does a fine job here as the redheaded spitfire, but her role is nothing more than an extended cameo – same with Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina) who plays Rebecca, John’s love interest. If you’re a woman in the Old West you’re either a whore or a damsel in distress, apparently. The film really could have benefited from a Calamity Jane or Annie Oakley type but, alas this is just another film by men, for men, about men.
Elliott and Rossio’s early drafts of The Lone Ranger script featured more supernatural elements pulled from Native American folklore, some of which remain in the finished film. Fitchner’s Cavendish is often referred to as a “Wendigo” by Tonto – a malevolent, cannibalistic, supernatural creature. Tonto goes so far as to melt down the badges of dead Texas Rangers to make a single silver bullet to kill the supernatural baddie – but that bullet is later wasted on a greedy American railroad magnate, so…yeah.
Personally, I really like the idea of a shapeshifter or skin-walker (aka werewolf) bad guy, being as the hero has his own supernatural origins. Cavendish eats a man’s heart; Tonto tells the Ranger the only way to kill the Wendigo is by using silver, but that’s about as far as it goes. Hey, if there’s a market for Cowboys and Aliens, there’s got to be an audience for The Lone Ranger Vs. Werewolves, right?
Also out of place is a bizarre framing narrative that features Depp’s Tonto as a 90-year-old man working in a traveling Wild West Exhibition (where he’s on display as a “Noble Savage”). There he meets a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger and regales the kid with wild tales of the Ranger’s adventures. It adds absolutely nothing to the film, other than turning it into a storybook movie like The Princess Bride or The NeverEnding Story where we constantly cut back to the kid asking “That didn’t really happen did it?” or “And then what happened?” You get the idea that Tonto might be not be the most reliable narrator but again, this never really amounts to anything.
Still, The Lone Ranger has its moments. It looks absolutely stunning, with gorgeous visuals and cinematography by Bojan Bazelli (who previously collaborated with Verbinski on The Ring). Still, I can’t help but think this film would have been better suited in the hands of Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), who channeled the gee-whiz innocence (and fun) of Saturday matinée serials effortlessly in his charming 1991 film, The Rocketeer.
At 149 minutes, Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger is a bloated, overblown fantasy-western that fails to capture the spirt of adventure and excitement of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series. Flip-flopping between gruesome violence and silly humor, this tone deaf adaptation of an American classic is an exercise in overkill.
Hi-Yo, Silver! Away! Follow Me on Twitter!