Directed by: Gore Verbinski
I’ve long been curious about ‘The Lone Ranger’ after it featured in Quentin Tarantino’s list of the Top 10 Films of 2013 and yesterday I finally got around to watching it. When I heard Tarantino’s endorsement, it seemed to go against the critical tide which dampened the film’s fire. Either Tarantino had lost touch with modern cinema, or he had a point that ‘The Lone Ranger’ was actually worth a watch. Jerry Bruckheimer believed that the film would be rediscovered as an underrated masterpiece. He described it as a “brave, wonderful film”.
I have vague memories of watching repeats of the black and white TV version of ‘The Lone Ranger’ but couldn’t remember much about it other than that ‘The Lone Ranger’ was a superhero version of the traditional western cowboy good guy. The Lone Ranger was Batman, and Tonto was his Robin. What I’m trying to say here is that the Lone Ranger was the lead. In Verbinski’s version Johnny Depp is given the starring role as Tonto with Armie Hammer his sidekick. It doesn’t really fit, and the duo form a double team which is equivalent to Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson in the ‘Shanghai Noon’ / ‘Shanghai Nights’ films.
Critics rounded hard on the film after it’s release, and it performed poorly at the box office. Now the dust has settled well over a year later I can pick at the carcass of the movie like a vulture. There are several problems with ‘The Lone Ranger’, for one its running length comes in at a bloated two and a half hours. The film begins with a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger who wanders through a Wild West exhibition at a local fair. He comes across a display of an elderly Native American who tells him the story of ‘The Lone Ranger’. Cutting out all of the scenes involving the kid and the elderly Tonto would’ve saved about twenty minutes. They are agonizingly, painstakingly dull, and though aiming for sentimentality it adds nothing to the story.
What works is the opening. John Reid, a lawyer is returning home by train. Also on board is Tonto and notorious cannibalistic outlaw Butch Cavendish who is returning to Texas to be executed. The train is set upon by Cavendish’s gang, who free Butch, and quickly escape the from the Texas Rangers led by John’s brother Dan. The Reid brothers pursue Cavendish’s gang into the canyons but they are ambushed, after watching his brother die John is left for dead. John is found by Tonto, and both are fuelled by a desire for vengeance and justice. At this point the film is tight; action packed and hooks you in.
That should be enough for the movie to succeed, but no, there is complications galore as too much is packed into the movie. Side plots involving Dan’s widow, who has always loved John, a General Custer lookalike who is slaughtering the ‘savages’ who have allegedly broken a peace treaty, and a power hungry Railroad Tycoon played by Tom Wilkinson. Too much happens in the middle of the film, and it sacrifices the need to build up Hammer’s character who is crudely underdeveloped. Hammer has proven he could be an able right hand man, his turn in ‘J.Edgar’ for example is superb, but I felt there needed to be a bit more emphasis on how the meek pacifist lawyer managed to develop a set of balls and take on all the bad guys.
Depp is Depp, you’ve seen Tonto’s mannerisms and movements in Captain Jack Sparrow, Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka and The Mad Hatter. I suppose the problem is that traditionally Tonto is the sidekick; giving him top billing doesn’t particularly work. But Depp is the star so really you have to build the film around him. In an ideal world they’d have made a film called ‘Tonto’, which began with Tonto’s family getting killed by the rogue silver miners, and follows him on his quest for revenge, leading to his meeting with John Reid which culminates in establishing the main villain Butch Cavendish. Then you’d make a second film called ‘The Lone Ranger’ which would centre on the pursuit of Cavendish and if the franchise succeeded you’d go for film number three ‘The Adventures of The Lone Ranger and Tonto’.
‘The Lone Ranger’ isn’t terrible, and it isn’t an underrated misunderstood gem that will be adored in years to come. It’s ok, and that’s about it.