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New Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

Updated on September 19, 2014

Director: Gore Verbenski
Cast: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Bryant Prince, Mason Cook

Everything critics have said about The Lone Ranger is true. Yes, the movie goes on for too long. Yes, the wraparound segment (which involves an elderly Tonto recounting his exploits with the Lone Ranger to an adoring young boy at a 1930's, San Francisco-set carnival) is clunky. Yes, the movie is tonally muddled, going from scenes of light-hearted goofiness to others that wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie (there's one scene where the villain cuts out a man's heart and eats it, which we see happen in an extreme close-up shot of a witness's eyeball). Yes, there is an inappropriate, ineffective, and horribly timed visual gag involving a horse standing on the branch of a tree, which comes just seconds after an entire Native American tribe has been slaughtered by U.S. soldiers.

With that said, it would seem like the only reasonable response for any critic would be to write another scathing review. That's exactly what it deserves, isn't it? After all, what possible defense could there be for a movie that downplays genocide with such a cheap and unfunny visual gag? Maybe there isn't one (not a good one, anyway). All I know is that I've seen The Lone Ranger a couple of times now, and every time I do, it always leaves me with a smile on my face.

It could be the fact that this is my first experience with the character (who's been around since the 1930's), or it could be that I saw this movie at a very particular moment in my life. When I saw it in theaters last year, I had recently quit a job that put me in such a funk, that not only did I not want to write anything anymore, I also had serious suicidal thoughts. It was not a happy moment in my life, and all I wanted from this movie was something to make forget that job for a good two hours, which is exactly what it did. It did such a good job of it, that I didn't mind the fact that the movie went on for almost two-and-a-half hours. The longer I was focused on the movie, the longer my mind was off the job, so in a way, the film's bloated length was something of a blessing (for me, anyway).

Then, there's director Gore Verbenski, who directs the movie with such vibrancy that I found it impossible not to smile. I enjoyed the many absurd stunts in the movie, including an ingenious, Buster Keaton-inspired bit involving heroic Comanche Indian Tonto (Johnny Depp) using a wooden ladder to move from one train to another on a neighboring track, making it just in time before a well-placed tree shatters the ladder to pieces. I also enjoyed the two massive train crashes that bookend the movie, the first which sends our heroes flying a good thirty feet in the air, and leaves them with nothing but their clothes stained with the desert sand (apparently, they have bones made of adamantium).

Johnny Depp engages in a staring contest with a white horse in "The Lone Ranger."
Johnny Depp engages in a staring contest with a white horse in "The Lone Ranger."

I even liked the way the title character was portrayed. Like Jimmy Stewart's character from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a young, idealistic attorney who "doesn't believe in guns," and who believes that law and order can be maintained without resorting to violence. Many critics have complained that his character is something of a coward, but I disagree. In the film's opening, he gets caught up in the middle of an action scene set on a train, as the cannibalistic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) is sprang from custody by his men. The bad guys attempt to derail the train, and John seems to be the only one concerned about the other passengers on board (Tonto tries jumping off and saving his own skin, and the first thought that comes to John's more heroic Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is to get off the train (it's only after John insists they stay to help the passengers that he suggests separating the cars)).

With Cavendish on the loose, Dan deputizes John and has him join his posse to bring Cavendish back to justice. This leads to a well-staged action scene where our heroes are ambushed inside a narrow pass through a canyon, and the villains kill all of the Texas Rangers save for John. It is here where Tonto, under the guidance of the great white Spirit Horse, nurses John back to health and convinces him to become the Lone Ranger. Together, they ride out to take down the murderous Cavendish, as well as the crooked railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who manages the uncompleted Transcontinental Railroad.

From there, the movie becomes a buddy-action picture, with our heroes at first bickering endlessly with one another until the final third, where they become good friends. It's formulaic, to be sure, but Hammer and Depp have solid chemistry, and their bickering does lead to a number of amusing moments. The best involves a scene where a Comanche tribe buries them up to their neck in the sand. John yells at Tonto about how this is all his fault. "It could be worse," Tonto tells him. "You could develop an itch...on your nose!" No points if you can guess what happens right after.

The movie is populated with a number of side characters. Some of them are unnecessary, but all of them are well played by the cast. Helena Bonham Carter is a riot as a one-legged brothel madam whose artificial leg conceals a shotgun, and Ruth Wilson makes for a charming and spunky damsel as Rebecca, Dan's widow and John's future love interest. The most interesting performance is turned in by Barry Pepper, who plays a US cavalry officer who allows himself to be easily manipulated by those in power. He starts off the movie as a seemingly moral character, until one particular (well-handled) scene where he reveals how easy it is for him to turn to the dark side.

Hi-ho, Silver b*****s!
Hi-ho, Silver b*****s!

Many of those in power are the villains of the piece, which is why John eventually decides to become the Lone Ranger. He realizes that he stands for morals and ideals that are otherwise anachronistic in the modern world (or Texas, 1869). The only way to truly uphold the law is to work against those who claim to uphold it, but instead abuse their title and position for their own sinister purposes. In this way, The Lone Ranger is a thematic cousin to this year's far, far better Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both movies seem to make the bleak suggestion that those we entrust our safety to may not be as noble and as trustworthy as we would hope. John Reid believes in truth and justice, and it is because of this that he becomes an outlaw.

While that certainly is a dark theme, it's to the movie's credit that it handles it without becoming too dark itself. The Lone Ranger is, for the most part, a joyful and entertaining movie, and one that's carried by lead performances that are better than what some people would have you believe. Hammer is likable as the title character, and injects a self-deprecating sense of humor that makes the role all the more enjoyable (I laughed at the high-pitched scream he lets out at one particular moment). Depp seems to be playing a Native American version of Jack Sparrow, but his deadpan shtick is still quite endearing, and he's perhaps the only actor who could wear a dead bird on his head (which he constantly feeds) and make it seem, well, funny. Wilkinson is quietly sinister as Cole, while Fichtner is deliciously nasty and over-the-top as Cavendish.

The technical credits in the movie are also very good. The wide-screen cinematography by Bojan Bazelli is, at times, enchanting (the opening shot of the Golden Gate bridge still under construction is beautiful), and the musical score by Hans Zimmer is a rousing success (his take on "The William Tell Overture," which swells during the climax, is especially good). The production design, art direction, and set design are all first rate, as are the special-effects used during the big action scenes, and the Little Big Man-like make-up effects used on Depp during the wraparound segment. The action scenes are deliriously entertaining, but the film's most evocative moment is also its quietest: a silent, ominous shot of the night sky just seconds before hundreds of arrows rain down on enemy soldiers.

With that said, does that excuse the many problems stated before, or the numerous plot holes that I didn't feel like mentioning in this review? (And to be honest, the movie does have its fair share of them.) For many of you, the answer to that is a resounding "Hell no!" For many of you, this was one of the very worst movies of last year, and I do sympathize and understand where you're coming from. For me, personally, The Lone Ranger is a flawed but entertaining love letter to the Western genre, and if being honest and admitting that I liked this movie makes me an outcast in today's movie going world, then I have only one thing to say: "Hi-ho, Silver - Away!"

Rated PG-13 for lots of violence (some of it quite graphic), mild profanity, some suggestive material

Final Grade: *** (out of ****)

What did you think of this movie? :)

4.3 out of 5 stars from 3 ratings of The Lone Ranger (2013)

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