Wednesday, 3 July 2013
FILM REVIEW: THE LONE RANGER
Walt Disney Studios Films
After successfully teaming up on the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films and the Oscar-winning animation, Rango, director Gore Verbinski and leading man Johnny Depp no doubt thought combining the two -- a rollicking, blockbuster adventure and a slightly off-kilter western -- would be equally as rewarding.
Thus we have The Lone Ranger, a 149-minute refashioning of the classic TV and movie hero (first appearing on radio in 1933) who dons a black mask, rides a white horse named Silver, and is accompanied everywhere by his Comanche sidekick, Tonto; riding across the post-Civil War American Old West and righting wrongs wherever they find them.
The film is an origin story, recounted by an old Tonto (Depp) to a young boy who, in 1936, encounters Tonto as a sideshow exhibit in a travelling carnival. The old man may no longer have his wits about him but we eventually learn that he never really did; Tonto's mind damaged at a young age by his guilt and the greed and avarice of the white man (for all its faults, Verbinski's film doesn't skimp on the atrocities committed by the settlers and the US military against the Native Americans).
Tonto arrives via train and in chains at the same time that lawyer, John Reid (Armie Hammer), returns to his home town, greeted coolly by his US Marshall brother, Dan (James Badge Dale), and noticeably warmer by his sister-in-law, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). But before long the Comanche and the lawyer will become reluctant partners in their pursuit of the outlaw Butch Cavendish (an oily William Fichtner), the man responsible for Tonto's mental anguish and who kills John's brother.
Through near death and vengeance, a hero is born. A hero, mind, who isn't particularly well equipped for the ways of the West. John Reid is a man of letters not guns; he often refuses to carry let alone fire one. Kind of like Batman. (Contrast that with the US cavalries eagerness to shoot first and ask questions never.) Yet together, John and Tonto make for a formidable team and close enough to one functioning man.
There are other sub plots involving the railway (a pet project of Tom Wilkinson's snarling industrialist, Latham Cole), and the mining of silver. And there's Helena Bonham Carter, too, as a brothel madam with something under her petticoats that really goes off! But Bonham Carter, who has a mere two scenes in the film, is just one of the many distractions, plot convolutions and drawn out set pieces which contribute to The Lone Ranger's runtime and not its 'pro's' column.
Indeed, the third act (or 'the last of the big set pieces') of The Lone Ranger involves two trains hurtling in the same direction with an assortment of the film's various characters alternating between the two. I lost track of just who was on which train, and I'm not sure it made much of a difference: like the two hurtling trains, the destination of Verbinski's film is never in doubt, it's the roundabout way we get their which is incidental.
That said, Depp and Hammer make for an enjoyably loopy couple though not quite as much fun (or anywhere near as homoerotic) as Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (even as much as composer Hans Zimmer's score makes nods to those films). And in some way to ward off the inevitable (and perhaps not unwarranted) cries of racial insensitivity aimed at Depp playing a Native American, he and Verbinksi have beefed up the role of Tonto: he may be the sidekick but Tonto doesn't play second fiddle to anyone.
Sadly, Depp's performance can't elevate The Lone Ranger in the same way he did the first of the 'Pirates' films, and the film doesn't even come close to the kooky, ornery antics of Verbinki's Rango. You may not be able to shake the ear worm that is the William Tell Overture (which, as the iconic Lone Ranger theme music, makes an inevitable if incongruous appearance late in the piece) but you'll have a harder time than a geriatric Tonto recalling the rest of the film.