Theatrical Review: The Lone Ranger

In the old west, the prosperity of the American railroad and progress for the country is threatened by the sadistic outlaw, Butch Cavendish. Cavendish has been captured and is about to be brought to justice, but his gang has been planning an escape. The escape is thwarted thanks to the mixed efforts by a newly anointed District Attorney, John Reid, and another prisoner, the Indian known as Tonto. Cavendish is brought to jail, but escapes again. John Reid, now deputized as a Texas Ranger by his brother Dan, joins a group of seven other Texas Rangers again on the hunt for Cavendish, only to massacred in a brutal ambush. John Reid survives the attack thanks to the efforts of Tonto, and now the two begin a trek to again bring Cavendish to justice, with Reid donning a mask to a hide his identity.

That’s an extremely loose description of the premise to The Lone Ranger the latest film from those who made the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Johnny Depp. I think that could be the real gauge of whether or not you like The Lone Ranger; if you’re a fan of those movies, you’ll probably have a pretty good time with this, I’m not exactly what you’d call a fan of those movies though.

In retrospect, I probably should’ve just sit this one out. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with what I saw in the initial trailers for the film, thinking this was going to be more of a send-up than anything else. Later trailers got me a little more enthused, with a lot more action and looking like this was going to be a little bit more serious than what I’d initially thought. I like the Lone Ranger in general, really enjoying the old Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels TV series and the Filmation cartoons, but I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a fan. But still I think this has plenty of cinematic potential in the right hands, unfortunately I don’t think this is the right team for the job.

There’s a scene after Tonto discovers the still-living John Reid, that sums up the film for me anyway. Tonto is taking an unconscious Reid someplace where he can recover. Tonto is riding the horse that will be known as Silver and is pulling Reid behind him on a makeshift gurney. The horse stops to take a big dump and then continues to go forward then dragging Reid through what’s left behind, all to get a cheap laugh. Seeing that scene just made me wonder if there was any real respect for the legend of these characters at all- this doesn’t laugh with it’s characters, it laughs at them and is constantly punctuated by Depp’s characteristic quirky takes.

It tries to mix poignancy with it’s humor, offering up a couple of scenes that give off an extreme commentary of the genocide of the Indians during the old west, but just as quickly as these intense scenes end, they get punctuated with a joke that makes these scenes of seriousness just totally out of place in this movie.

On it’s plus side, it certainly does have a good look to it, and there’s an inspired use by composer Hans Zimmer of the classic William Tell Overture during a climactic chase scene. The unfortunate thing though is that at that point, I was just waiting for this to just end. The movie weighs in at two and half hours and just loads more and more into the mix as it goes on… and on. This could’ve easily had a half hour trimmed from it to make for something that moves at a more even clip.

Johnny Depp is hit and miss with me these days, though lately it’s more “miss” than anything else. His Tonto reminds me of a mix of a bad Jay Silverheels impression, with Dustin Hoffman from Little Big Man and Joey Bishop from the classic western comedy, Texas Across The River. There’s just too much mugging for the camera and winking at the audience for my tastes. Armie Hammer plays John Reid/the Lone Ranger starting off as a totally foppish character who is just inept at every turn. The two play their relationship together like a bickering couple which basically smacks in the face of the classic relationship between the two characters. I can’t really blame Hammer for this, but I certainly can blame Depp who has a producer credit in the film as well and who I’d like to think should just know better. Well, I take that back… what they did is just fine for the movie they wanted to make, this just isn’t the movie about the Lone Ranger and Tonto that I wanted to see.

There’s good support here, by William Fichtner (as Cavendish), Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale and Barry Pepper, but again I use the term “good” based around the movie they made and this not being the movie about the characters that I wanted to see.

The Lone Ranger was clearly just not the movie that I wanted to see. I’d love to see a director like a Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado) or George Miller (the Mad Max movies) get a hold of this and make something that could be thrilling and inspiring with just the right touches of humor that work for the situation rather than laugh at it. If you’re wild about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, then you may very well have a good time with this and more power to you. For myself, I was left at the end asking “Who was that masked man?” and not in the good way…