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Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Premise: Taking place in the old west, a prosecutor (Armie Hammer) joins with a Native American (Johnny Depp) to combat a gang of outlaws.

What Works: The Lone Ranger is a unique film in the Hollywood tent pole marketplace. Most movies with this kind of scale are often safe and stale with no artistic risks or personal touches. While most of the plot twists of The Lone Ranger are predicable, the movie frequently includes creative flourishes that are unusual, unexpected, and sometimes weird. Supporting characters such as Helena Bonham Carter’s one legged bordello madam and William Fichtner’s cannibalistic gang leader fall outside the usual parameters of a movie like this. Any given scene from The Lone Ranger works on its own merits; the comic scenes involving the Lone Ranger’s horse or the horrific scenes of violence are refreshingly unhinged. The action sequences of The Lone Ranger are especially good. Director Gore Verbinski has a knack for complex action set pieces and the climax is a really impressive shell game of stunts and characters. The Lone Ranger is also aided by its casting. Armie Hammer is a likable lead as The Lone Ranger and he is able to do the action and the comedy equally well. Johnny Depp is cast as Tonto and his performance in The Lone Ranger is better than a lot of Depp’s recent roles in blockbuster movies. Depp serves essentially the same function at Tonto in The Lone Ranger as he did as Captain Jack in the original Pirates of the Caribbean but he is a reliable performer and he is able to inject a lot of humor into his scenes, even if it is the actor’s familiar weirdo shtick.

What Doesn’t: The unusual qualifies of The Lone Ranger are as much to its benefit as they are to its detriment. The picture is a hodgepodge of references to other movies and its tone is all over the place. Moments of gore and violence are very intense, in ways that are reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but other scenes are lighthearted with obvious nods to silent pictures like Buster Keaton’s The General. Still other scenes of The Lone Ranger recall revisionist Westerns like Little Big Man while at other times the movie draws on more traditional genre pictures like High Noon. The filmmakers transition violently between these references and the shifts often snap the viewer out of the movie. The Lone Ranger also suffers from a lot of problematic storytelling choices. The picture includes a frame narrative in which an elderly Tonto narrates the story. This frame is not necessary, it adds very little to the movie, and it ends up interrupting the momentum of the narrative, making it an irritating intrusion. Like a lot of recent Hollywood blockbusters, The Lone Ranger is too long. Had the filmmakers discarded the frame narrative, the running time of the picture might be more manageable. But the length of The Lone Ranger is a problem because of the story’s uninspired plotting. Like Batman Begins, this is an origin story in which a law abiding citizen takes up vigilantism but nothing about that transition is compelling. Instead the movie focusses on a conspiracy plot between the gang of bandits and a railroad baron but the intrigue is obvious and the middle of the movie gets tedious. The film also fails in its two key interpersonal relationships. The romance between the Lone Ranger and his love interest (Ruth Wilson) fails but so does the relationship between The Lone Ranger and Tonto. This is a shame because The Lone Ranger and Tonto are the original buddy-cop duo but the movie does not develop their alliance. The two characters are flung together by circumstance but do not emerge as partners who are committed to each other or to a higher calling. That ruins any possibility of The Lone Ranger seeding a franchise (which this is obviously trying to do) because all successful film series are based on compelling characters.

Bottom Line: The Lone Ranger is a movie of impressive individual pieces that do not coalesce into a coherent whole. The movie does entertain and it has some brilliant fragments but it is a picture that should have undergone a more rigorous editing process.

Episode: #447 (July 14, 2013)