– Summary –
Director : Gore Verbinski
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook, JD Callum, Saginaw Grant, Harry Treadaway, James Frain, Joaquin Cosio, Stephen Root.
Approx Running Time : 149 Minutes
Synopsis: In order to avenge the murder of his Ranger brother, a Texas lawyer dons a mask and takes the mantle of the Lone Ranger.
What we think : Not nearly as bad as most critics would have you believe, but nowhere near as good as a $250m+ budget might have you expect, The Lone Ranger is a bizarre mix of Old West charm, blazing action sequences, and rather bloody, violent – nay, sadistic – tendencies that will not lend themselves to younger viewers. A meandering narrative, and some structurally unbalanced middle-act convolutions, render this film more inert than active, more often than not, so if you approach with a relatively unassuming eye you might just enjoy it.
Hi ho Silver, awaaaaay!!
Somewhere, somebody at Disney is being sodomized for giving this film the green light. More infamous for its production woes, ballooning budget and not-quite-sure-of-itself marketing campaign (who exactly is the star of this film again?), The Lone Ranger suffers the modern Hollywood malaise of too much money, for too little payoff. Disney sank somewhere north of 200 million into this film, and recouped barely that in world-wide box-office – not exactly the staggering success the company’s executives might have been hoping for. Negative pre-release critiques were blamed for this shortfall, especially by the studio (and, weirdly, the stars of the film) but it’s fair to say that a number of contributing factors accounted for the tepid (putting it lightly) reaction from the general public, of which we will discuss in a moment. Does The Lone Ranger warrant such a dishonorable discharge from the starters gun of cinematic blockbusting? Is it that bad, or was it all a stars-aligning turnip before it ever hit the big screen?
Told in flashback, from an elderly Tonto (Johnny Depp) relating the story of the Lone Ranger to a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) at a fair in San Francisco, The Lone Ranger sees Armie Hammer don the mask as the titular hero, otherwise known as John Reid, who is seeking revenge on the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Cavendish, who lured John’s brother Dan (James Badge Dale) and his fellow Rangers into an ambush, is working ostensibly for local railroad baron Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a man who wants to join the United Stated by a steel railway which will transport the wealth of the country across its landscape. Cole, however, has more sinister motives for the railroad, a plan that John wants to see come to an end as he seeks revenge for his brothers’ murder. Also in the frame is Dan’s widow, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), and her young son Danny (Bryant Prince), who John has deep feelings for. With attacking Comanche Indians, and a dishonorable cavalry commander (Barry Pepper) added to the fray, gaining his revenge will be a tough ask for the violence-avoiding Lone Ranger.
The Lone Ranger isn’t a terrible film – leastways, not to the point where it was ever less than a casual laugh here and there. Sure, the film lumbers with a staggeringly bloated running time (clocking in at 2 and a half hours!) and some enormous action set pieces (mainly the opening and closing train-based sequences) that tend to become more tedious than exciting as they draw ever nearer to the inevitable, explosive conclusion, but on the whole it’s not the insipid work of crap you’ve been led to believe. The film has a grandiosity about it – probably because of the spectacular use of Monument Valley locales to backdrop the action – and there’s definitely a lot of money going up on the screen. The key characters of Tonto and John Reid, thanks to leads Depp and Hammer, are engaging and keep the momentum lurching throughout the somewhat stop-start narrative, while they are backed up by terrific supporting turns by William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson, each of whom inhabit their villainous roles with delight. The scale of the action sequences is equally as enormous; twin train crash sequences bookend the film, with the latter being particularly packed with crazy Western shenanigans.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, who helmed the first three Pirates Of The Caribbean films (of which, the last two are less than critically applauded) and who knows how to bring the bright Hollywood sheen to any caper film (just look at Mouse Hunt as an example), The Lone Ranger contains plenty of stuff in it to keep the younger fans entertained, although just how entertained they are by a near-three hour film with no iPods depends on their tolerance for Fichtner’s cruel sneer, Depp’s sardonic turn as Tonto, and Hammer’s opaque, square-jawed cypher as the Ranger in question, is where the film will live or die. Playful fun is good in films like this, yet the problem Lone Ranger has is that there’s too little of it in between some more serious, often off-color themes, among which genocide is a particular sour taste. Verbinski brings a wide-screen action sensibility to the film, even at the expense of a tighter narrative, better characters, and a finer balance between pathos and comedy. The lurch between the two doesn’t feel as fluid as it should.
Generally, the bad outweighs the good, at least in terms of story. There’s just too much happening in this film, too many sidebar characters and too little focus. It all feels like they’ve gone to the kitchen sink, ripped it from the tiling, and thrown it at the screenplay. Varied mysticism, grand adventure, bloodthirsty villainy, raucous stereotypes and the occasionally bawdy Helena Bonham Carter, all mixed into a stew of vastly overdone flavor and not too much texture; this film is like a jigsaw somebody’s assembled, only without any edges or a picture to work from. John Reid’s a character with limited depth – his attraction to his brothers’ wife is a little hard to swallow in what is essentially a kids film (not quite sure how Disney would feel about a film involving covetousness in this instance), and his historical backstory with his brother is thinly written. James Badge Dale is excellent as Dan Reid, the unfortunate brother who meets his demise after betrayal by one of is men. Yet, in death, he’s relegated to a statistic in the film, with nary an afterthought mention of his name once the “quest for vengeance” kicks in a few minutes later. Dan’s widow, and John’s love interest, Rebecca, is as generic a Western Woman as it’s possible to get – she’s strong willed yet torn between the love for her husband and her attraction to the still-alive brother. Ruth Wilson does her best with the material, but she’s wasted – come to think of it, had they carved her subplot out of the film altogether, and just had John seeking vengeance for his murdered brother, it might have focused the film a little better.
Johnny Depp has top billing, but finds himself relegated to almost a third stringer after Armie Hammer (is it just me, or is that the most awesome name working in Hollywood today?) and Tom Wilkinson, both of whom provide a little more fun and class to the movie than Depp can muster. Oh, you can see them trying to give Tonto more to do than simply be a hanger-on to John’s antics, but his non-stop “stupid white man” schtick begins to grate after half a film of it. Depp’s a commendably good performer in this, but his role feels force-fed to be larger than it deserves. No, the real hero here is Armie Hammer, who spends the first half of the film treading water trying not get lost in amongst all the exposition and “surprise revelations”, and who steps up to the Leading Man role in the latter half (thankfully), rescuing this film from even milder mediocrity. Tom Wilkinson, meanwhile, steals the film outright as the dastardly Latham Cole, giving all around him a masterclass in acting and elevating his role beyond what was probably written on the printed page.
There were moments, however, that did bring a smile to my face. Fichtner’s devious outlaw character was particularly fun, and the massive train-bound action sequences are a bit of a hoot – although I must admit, fatigue started to kick in about twenty minutes into one runaway train bit – but the best bit was waiting for the inevitable blast of Rossini’s William Tell Overture, the signature theme from the long-running television serial. I have to admit, hearing the tune sent a shiver up my spine, as Hans Zimmer’s marvelous reworking of this well known classic brought the instant grin to my face. It’s strange, but I found myself tapping my foot in time to the music at that point, and it really did make the film seem more majestic than anything previously. Zimmer’s score is evocative and grandiose, sure, but aside from his homage to Rossini, it’s entirely forgettable. The brass orchestral moments, the sweeping melodics of trundling through the mid-western American landscape, all bring extra “sweeping-ness” to a film already brimming with lavish style, but I can’t remember a single original tune from the movie.
Even in the face of a sagging midsection, and way too many characters for a single film to try and give us, there’s no real reason within the film for it to be the “failure” it became in light of its lackluster box-office. The film isn’t a complete disaster, although it does have a few problems. I think the reason for its lack of traction with the public is simply that the entire premise comes from a time now long past. The adults who remember the original serial aren’t the target audience for the movie, and those whom this film is aimed at have no idea who the Lone Ranger is. The marketing for the film indicated an equally ambivalent focus – be it on Depp, Hammer, or the ironic humor at the heart of key elements – and I think most people (me included) were confused as to exactly what the film was trying to be. It certainly doesn’t help with a mid-film massacre of an entire Indian tribe, in the same frame as Silver standing atop a branch of a tree, contrasts too severely to be anything other than a muddled mess.
The Lone Ranger tries to harken back to the grand old Western films, where the Good Guys and the Bad Guys were clearly delineated (even to the point of John’s white hat symbolizing this fact), but it mishandles key elements of its tone and story, drags on far too long for a simple adventure movie, and can’t quite bring it all together at the very end. Cut an hour out of it, and you’ll have a convincing action flick that would appeal to all, but as is, The Lone Ranger feels too clunky and over-directed to make much sense to anyone. It’s not terrible (as I’ve said), but it’s by no means a classic. If you’re got nothing else to do, and you don’t really care for anything ticking those brain cells over, then this film might just do the job. Anything else, and you’ll be thinking about mowing the lawn.
© 2013 – 2018, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.