The Lone Ranger: Don’t Believe The Negative Hype On This Fun Ride

Like most, I dreaded The Lone Ranger’s release. A $200+ million reboot of a franchise no one was clamoring for, starring Johnny Depp as a wacky Native American speaking in cliched stilted catchphrases, with a run time pushing two hours and thirty minutes? I cannot blame anyone who saw the trailer for recoiling in agony. That budget for that property with that marketing campaign was a major-league recipe for disaster. The actual reviews that followed seemed to verify everyone’s fears: a veritable dogpile of rabid Davids upon the mortally wounded shell of a Goliath. This is the part that baffles me: not that people wouldn’t like it, as individual tastes differ, but the sheer voracity of the attacks upon a film that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s not without its flaws or its bloat, but The Lone Ranger is an energetic blockbuster that manages to both deliver the joys of the Western and subvert the negative baggage that the genre seems to wield. Many seem to believe that taking a known property is classic studio risk aversion, yet the only element resembling risk aversion here is the title: Disney has made a $200+ million film in a genre unpopular with contemporary audiences with a Native American lead, one marketable actor whose face is obscured, and a narrative that focuses on the crimes of the white man and his Manifest Destiny. On top of all that, it manages to be funny, charming, and boasts two of the best-shot action set-pieces you’re likely to see all year.

We begin with a framing device that is admittedly initially jarring. At a fair in San Francisco in 1933, a young boy dressed as The Lone Ranger goes into a Wild West exhibit. Mannequins and stuffed creatures stand behind labels. The boy approaches a mannequin of an ancient Native American man, labeled “THE NOBLE SAVAGE.” When the mannequin turns out to be not a mannequin at all, but the real life Tonto (Johnny Depp, in some insane body-length age makeup), he begins spinning his wheels about the “true” story of The Lone Ranger. Is what Tonto is telling the truth, or just another tall tale about a mythological figure? In the end, does the truth really matter?

Flashback to the mid-1800s. John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns home to smalltown Texas via train. A railroad tycoon, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), has recently brought the Intercontinental Railroad through his hometown on its way toward the Pacific. We soon discover the train also carries a much younger Tonto and outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who was captured by Texas Ranger Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), John’s brother. The film establishes an extraordinary amount of relationship and conflict as the action unfolds– instead of frenetic action and slow character development carefully separated, like so many films, Verbinski manages to space out his action, building tension, allowing exchanges along the way. There are few contemporary action directors in whose hands I feel more comfortable.

Inevitably, Cavendish is broken free of his bonds, the Rangers go after him, and after a unfortunate twist of fate, John Reid is left as the sole figure in a position to pursue Cavendish. However, as a city lawyer, he knows nothing of tracking and abhors guns. Luckily, Tonto, who recognizes him from the train, is there beside him with the same goal. Cavendish is closely tied to Tonto’s checkered past, and Tonto is out for blood. He’d prefer Dan Reid, but John is his only option; he calls John “kemosabe.” When asked what that means, he deadpans, “Wrong brother.” John looks upon Tonto as a kooky nutcase, full of eccentric Native beliefs– and so do we, at first. Tonto appears to be your typical eccentric “helper of white man,” chanting, trading, and so forth. However, this is the film’s most adept misdirect. Tonto, as we learn, suffers from some severe disorders, and he compulsively lies to all white people in order to convenience him. He claims ancient Indian stories and spells and traditions, and we learn few of them if any are true. Here is a main character who gets ahead in this world by placating ignorant white expectations of his people and then subverting them behind their backs. In a world where Tonto appears to be the most simple-minded, he’s in fact smarter than the lot.

If you take issue with Johnny Depp, a seemingly white man, playing the lead Native American role, despite the deluge of (misguided) press releases attempting to convince everyone it’s okay, then I can’t blame you for avoiding the film altogether. I could try to convince you endlessly how cleverly the character is handled and how beautifully Depp plays the role, but it would be pointless, and I can’t frown at your opinion, as it seems few things are more offensive than attempts at convincing someone that something is not offensive. (I flash back to Quentin Tarantino in interview claiming it was cool if he said the N-word because he grew up in black neighborhoods, dating black women, et cetera… ugh.) However, if you can get past that, in The Lone Ranger, Depp’s deadpan stare has never been put to better use, and I include his work at Captain Jack Sparrow. Matt Zoller Seitz, in his terrific review, compared him to Buster Keaton, which was precisely the name that popped into my mind in theaters. I’ve read gripes that Depp’s stunt work seems too effortless: that’s precisely the beauty of the performance. When Tonto stands atop a ladder that is jutting from the top of a moving train, and he stares over at John Reid with a blank expression, it’s absurdity reminiscent of silent film comedy. The trailers made me fear I would hate Depp in this film, when it’s rare that I’ve liked him more.

As anyone who saw The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, this film predictably has about twenty minutes or so that could probably be cut. Gore Verbinski’s staple seems to be, like Michael Bay, giving audiences as much titillation for their buck as humanly possible. Yet unlike Michael Bay, Verbinski’s characters are, for the most part, flesh and blood (the female character development admittedly leave a lot to be desired here). While the film is long, it isn’t slow, and both action and comedic dialogue are rarely pointless in his hands. The film can be faulted for attempting to do too much, but that’s a fault I’m willing to take with my summer blockbusters. He also perfectly selects a supporting cast of scenery-chewers in Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Root, the utterly insane Barry Pepper, and the aforementioned Dale, who is in desperate need of a franchise of his own.

Few films this year are likely to provide the giddy joy of this film’s finale. The William Tell Overture blares, Silver rears up with The Lone Ranger on horseback, and we’re off to the races in a ridiculous and amazing train sequence. For all my talk about its subversive messages and its approach of American myth-making, it still delivers the goods that we want in our summer blockbuster. It looks terrific (set in broad daylight, thank you Lord), full of such visual wit that it puts all the action with shaky cam and lightning-fast cuts we see nowadays to shame. The Lone Ranger stands out from the pack this summer, in approach, risk, subject matter, and, for the most part, in execution. Here’s a director who cares about character and visual coherence in big-budget studio pictures, yet like so many of Cavendish’s henchmen, he gets thrown from the train by critics and audiences for this film. Point fingers at the executives who greenlit a $200+ million summer Western, the marketing team who failed to sell it adequately, the PR team who saturated the marketplace with embarrassing “Depp as a Native American is okay!” news stories. However, the movie on its own does a more than fine job in earning accolades. Many critics often decry studios for their lack of risk by making big-budget known property films. If only more of them would take the risk of sticking their neck out for the good ones.

~ by russellhainline on July 11, 2013.

4 Responses to “The Lone Ranger: Don’t Believe The Negative Hype On This Fun Ride”

  1. I didn’t like this movie, but I’ll absolutely despise it if we get a sequel or anything more. I’m super serious. Good review Russell.

  2. Eamcet web counseling procedure is changed do you want more details go through it farward this to your friends who are appearing for engineering.

  3. Great review here! Keen observation about the fact that it takes place mostly in the daytime! I didn’t notice that, but this one really does stay in the sunshine more than most (there is one or two scenes in the darkness, I believe but they are not long).

  4. I never believe in negative! There is always a positive to focus on 🐶

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