The 4th Started with a Bang-up, Shoot-‘em-Up Burst of Quasi Nostalgia:
The Lone Ranger — Reimagined for a New Generation
By: Ellis Nassour
The Lone Ranger [Disney Pictures] will make a great train ride attraction at the Disney world resorts, joining Pirates of the Caribbean. About a quarter of the film is an amusement park thrill ride [that was, alas, not shot in 3-D!]. The other three quarters of the 150 minutes is actually homage to Emmy-winning producer Jerry Bruckheimer (The Amazing Race) and Oscar-winning director Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, only set in the Wild West.
As acted by Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp, respectively, The Lone Ranger is often rousing good-ole cowboys and Indians vs. bad robber train barons – infused with humor and Depp’s well-honed dead am Captain Jack Sparrow spunk. His antics actually are welcome here, as they relieve a lot of tedium. He and Hammer play off each other quite deftly, but there’s too much to absorb.
Much has been made of Depp’s belief that he has Native American blood from a great-grandmother. Going into the film, which he co-produced, he said his goal was "to present a positive and accurate representation of the Comanche." He termed it "a personal attempt to try to right the wrongs of the past in reference to portrayals of Native Americans in media." How much he achieved his goal will be up to audiences.
Verbinski got a taste of the Old West, with Depp in tow, in his Western parody Rango, set in the lawless outpost of Dirt. In The Lone Ranger, the director and his writers show they have knowledge of Western movie history with flourishes of John Ford’s The Searchers; lots of Sergio Leone, especially Once Upon a Time in the West, Michael Garrison’s 1969 TV series The Wild, Wild West] [certainly not the horrible film version]; Andrey Konchalovsky’s Runaway Train; Charlie Chaplin, in general, and, specifically, silent screen legend Buster Keaton in the daredevil comic and Clyde Druckman’s Civil War comedy The General [on AFI’s list of Greatest Movies], in which engineer Keaton attempts to recapture a locomotive stolen by Union spies, who’re holding his beloved onboard.
The plot is slow to unfold as Native American warrior Tonto, seemingly mummified, but coming to life at a 1933 carnival attraction of historic dioramas to recount dastardly tales of injustice, and not just to Native Americans.
This is the first feature film about the masked law man and his Native American sidekick since the 70s. The characters became enduring icons of pop culture beginning in the 30s on radio and spawning books, and an amazingly popular TV series that run eight seasons [Clayton Moore and Native American Jay Silverheels co-starred].
Departing on his white stallion, Silver, to fight for justice and the American way, the Lone Ranger would shout, "Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!" That and the Lone Ranger’s fond moniker for Tonto, "Kemosahbee," became part of our lexicon.
Co-starring are two-time Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Tom Wilkinson, who’s got the props to play a benevolent American pioneer out for the good of his nation and champion of the downtrodden while plotting to downtrodden everyone in his path for his own riches; William Fichtner, in probably his biggest role to date, is badass outlaw Butch Cavendish; and, Depp’s good-luck charm, two-time Oscar nominee Helena Bonham Carter, who appears intermittently and is all but wasted in a role of a madam that could have been quite a bit of fun. Barry Pepper and Ruth Wilson add support.
In the first of two extraordinary train chases, we meet rookie Texas Ranger lawman John Reid (Hammer) uniting with Tonto and
attempting to get his footing against fairly insurmountable odds to capture a vicious outlaw (Fichtner). It doesn’t hurt that there’s humor and sight gas to lighten the proceedings. Their fight against greed and corruption makes its way slowly to the hair-raising runaway train finale – with tons of help from Industrial Light & Magic and Atomic Fiction CGI.
The film is spectacular looking thanks to production designers Jess Gonchor and Mark "Crash" McCreery (Rango, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) and their team of six art directors, 11 set designers, illustrators and scenic artists, and miniature model makers.
Scenic it is – sometimes, even edge of the seat. Other times, by trying to jam in everything including the kitchen sink, it seems off kilter.
Depp’s all grown up now, so how long will he keep doing these Pirates-like movies? Why doesn’t he step up and use his considerable talents in a thriller or rom-com. He really stretched for The Rum Diary, based on his friend Hunter Thompson’s novel, but the film didn’t score at the box office.