Thursday 22 August 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger

Year: 2013
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter

Synopsis is here:

I often dislike when film-makers and actors “defend” their movie, by attacking critical responses. I’ve often said that critics can do little to affect blockbusters like these. Any proud causal film-goer will say: “I’ll make up my own mind” or “I don’t need to be told what to watch” and it’s a somewhat true point.  That said, The Lone Ranger is a bit of an anomaly in this age of comic book branded blockbusters. Originally a radio play, the franchise’s most popular period was in the forties. Since then; a few cinematic and television adaptations have been tried, none have been successful.

The fact is, modern day westerns are not known for their financial potential, while the character of The Lone Ranger is not well known to those who fall into that golden age bracket that all studios are aiming for. The film-makers must have known what a risk they were taking. A $200+ million film in a genre which has had its fair share of problems in the modern age (find me five truly profitable westerns in the last 20 years); in a packed holiday season with better “known” franchises and characters. Of’s easy to blame the writers.

However, I must say that the amount of venom over The Lone Ranger is; in my eyes, quite bemusing. Gore Verbinski has never been a director I’d line up around the block for and The Lone Ranger was never on my list of must sees, especially after the muddlesome Pirate sequels. Yet The Lone Ranger, for all its production and budgetary issues, is far more entertaining than it should be. Much like the much maligned John Carter, we have a film with its heart in the right place. It’s just a pity that said heart is hidden by the silver spoon that’s placed in its mouth.

Much of this is due to the film’s director, Gore Verbinski. Despite my misgivings about quite a few of his movies, Verbinski is craftsman who not only feels comfortable with large scale projects, but someone who enjoys that old fashioned flair of the films of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger continues Verbinski’s affinity for the traditional with a film that lovingly touches on the Westerns of the past. The films of John Ford and Sergio Leone are tactfully acknowledged while the story themes noted should remind fans of some of the time honoured classics that have come before.

Ironically, the oft mentioned budget is better handled than you may think. Not only is The Lone Ranger is at times beautifully crafted in its design, but it holds a type physicality that can only stem from a long list of stunt men as opposed to a large team of CGI designers. The film nearly turns itself into Meta commentary as many of the films elements become a metaphor of mainstream film making itself. The rise and fall build of the films thrilling action sequences and their practicality, its wholehearted lead and the genre itself are slowly becoming as mystical as the old west.  Much like John Carter (and Captain America for that matter), this is the kind of Sunday afternoon film that is slowly being replaced with the angst-ridden, constantly destructive, semi-anti heroes that are now more popular.

That said, those heroes often have better scripts and The Lone Ranger’s fussy plot and uneven pacing cause it to constantly trip over itself. Things like Tonto’s backstory and framing device (involving an aged Tonto telling the Rangers story to a child) are more thoughtful than you’d expect, touching upon the sad plight of the Native American against white America’s own desires. One of the film’s opening moments has an aged Tonto spooking the child. Watch the kid’s first reaction.  However; such moments are often too few and far between, and the films first hour is slow and extraneous. The needless double crosses of the pirate films are happily nowhere to be seen, but the films running time in contrast with the narrative content is at odds. Sorry to sound like a Total Film web list but I don’t believe the film needs to be as long as it is.

Such aspects take away from the fact that Armie Hammer is a more engaging straight man than Orlando Bloom and that Jonny Depp’s shtick isn’t too bad here.  Arguments about the films graphic content are understandable but seem minor in comparison to more successful material that have played with the edge far worse. There’s brevity about The Lone Ranger that makes it far more interesting than the external arguments about its cost. As annoying is it is seeing its stars blast critics for not “getting it”, I must say I can see why they’re mad. No one seemed to want to note the ambition. But then again, DVD’s haven’t left us yet. So there’s still time for the home audience.