THE LONE RANGER (2013)
FILM REVIEW - THE LONE RANGER
Running Length: 149 min
Release Date: 11th June 2013
Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson
Screenplay by: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio
Cinematography: Bojan Bazelli
``a thoroughly enjoyable, admirable folly``
The Lone Ranger is what Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), would have looked like had it been made at Disney. Wait – where are you going? Come back… this might sound like a terrible concept, but the end result is far more enjoyable than you would expect. The latest collaboration between Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer arrives on our shores preceded by a weight of bad press, fed by stories of a bloated budget and production problems. The trio’s track record may not inspire confidence, but, thankfully, The Lone Ranger has more in common with Verbinski’s Gonzo-western Rango (2011) than the vapid, all-surface-and-no-soul Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Set in 1869, when the railroads had finally tamed the Wild West, the story shares many of the same themes with Leone’s epic; modernity displacing nature, and man enforcing his will on the untameable. Lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his home town on the same train that carries outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and Tonto (Depp). In place of a gun, he carries John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (Charlton Heston would’ve hated him). Oh, and just like John Wayne’s character in The Searchers (1956), he’s in love with his brother’s wife (Ruth Wilson). Cavendish escapes, and Reid’s Lawman brother rounds up a posse to recapture him. This doesn’t go well.
Love him or loathe him, Depp has been dancing to the beat of his own drum for the past 23 years. In an industry where mediocrity and conformity is rewarded, this is to be admired. He adds yet another eccentric to a bench already heaving with them, but his portrayal of Tonto is, thankfully, more subdued than the broad caricature of Jack Sparrow. Depp has a natural gift for physical comedy, channeling Keaton and Chaplin to great effect.
The tone constantly shifts from unadulterated edge-of-civilization brutality to cutesy slapstick, but it’s not until the final act that the wheels come off (literally), and the film succumbs to movie-making-by-committee. At almost two-and-a-half hours, the film is unforgivably long (but never drags), and the Little Big Man (1970) framing narrative of the elderly Tonto would have worked if it wasn’t used throughout the entire movie. But this is nit-picking; the bulk of the movie is comprehensively entertaining, and is probably the best example of how to “do” epic blockbuster I’ve seen in a long time. Like Morricone’s classic score for Once Upon a Time…, Hans Zimmer uses leitmotifs to accent characterisation, but it’s the pitch-perfect use of Rossini’s William Tell Overture for the finale that draws the greatest pleasure. And I’m happy to say, it hasn’t been remixed by Jay-Z or Skrillex.
No doubt Disney was hoping for another lucrative franchise, but why does every big-budget movie need to be sequelized? The Lone Ranger works just fine as a stand-alone story. Verbinski’s film is a homage to a genre of a bygone age, and it’s commendable that he adheres so vehemently to the timeless tenets of the genre. It’s a shame that The Lone Ranger has failed to find the mass audience it needed to feed its humungous budget, because it is a far better film than the “box office bomb” reputation that precedes it. The tragedy is that the film’s fate seems to be sealed before its release, because it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, admirable folly that deserves a fighting chance.