Opening 8 Aug 2013
Writing credits: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Principal actors: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson
With the William Tell Overture, silver bullets and a horse named Silver, the Lone Ranger has galloped his way back into mainstream culture in a film directed by Gore Verbinski. When John Reid (Armie Hammer), his brother and all of the local rangers are ambushed by the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), Reid must put on a mask and team up with a slightly unhinged Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp) to bring justice back to the land.
This is one of those films, which raises the question: what were the filmmakers thinking? Honestly, there are so many problematic aspects of this movie that it is impossible for one review to touch on them all. To name a few, there is the odd juxtaposition of extreme violence to kiddie comedy, the random anthropomorphizing of a horse, the throw away use of female characters, and the racial stereotyping and white-washing. The Lone Ranger is ridiculous, and it is clear that the filmmakers knew it was ridiculous, but it is also extremely worrying in regards to its sexism, race and violence.
Honestly, it is unclear who this film was made for. At some points the film becomes downright childish in its comedy and then at other times the violence is quite gruesome. One of the main bad guys in the film literally eats peoples’ hearts. Then, in the next scene we are introduced to the anthropomorphized horse, Silver, who throughout the film performs such hi-jinks as getting drunk on beer, appearing randomly in a tree with a cowboy hat and somehow climbing onto roofs with no apparent help. At another point in the film, Tonto helps the Lone Ranger escape from a firing squad and at the same time, the Comanche Indians attack and are ruthlessly slaughtered by the American troops with superior weapons. One moment is silly funny and the next is extremely tragic. This is not uncommon throughout the film. Although The Lone Ranger has been marketed as being a family film, it is easy to see how some of the events that occur can be too mature for younger audiences.
There are some troubling depictions of women and racial stereotypes throughout the film as well. There are only two female characters in the entirety of the rather lengthy The Lone Ranger, and both characters are throwaways. The Lone Ranger’s love interest has no real backstory to speak of, and aside from providing a plucky child stereotype in the form of her son, she has no real purpose other than being a damsel in distress. Helena Bonham Carter’s role is a little less problematic, but equally pointless as the Madam with a prosthetic leg that doubles as a gun. Both characters could have been written out of the script and no one would have noticed. In addition, there is the fact that the storyline takes place during the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, but there doesn’t seem to be any people of color working there. No African Americans, no Chinese… in fact, the only time any Chinese workers are seen at all is as miners for the bad character. It is interesting that, despite historical proof that there was a huge presence of people of color working on the railroad, it is not depicted in the film. However, the even more concerning racial issue comes in the form of Johnny Depp’s portrayal as Tonto.
In a surprising turn of events, Johnny Depp takes the character of Tonto and makes him into another facsimile of his representation of Jack Sparrow (of Pirates of the Caribbean fame.) There are a couple of major differences though, Tonto wears a lot of face paint and has a dead bird on his head and he talks using the stereotypical monosyllabic, slow “Indian-style” speech which is typical in Hollywood films. It was clear from the beginning that there would racial problems to overcome with the character of Tonto (who was very much a racial stereotype made for a radio show from the 1930s), but it almost as though the important people who had a hand in approving and making this film decided to ignore issues. Casting Johnny Depp instead of a Native American actor was the first poor choice, regardless of how many interviews Depp gives about his apparent native ancestry (that he can’t prove). There has been a huge public relations campaign trying to make up for this fact, but in the end his portrayal feels like he put on “red face” for the film. And honestly, is there not much of a difference between a white man putting on black face to portray a African American and a white man putting on war paint to portray a Native American? Perhaps if his portrayal of Tonto was a more realistic representation of real Native Americans this would not be so offensive, but as it is yet another blatant caricature, it feels wrong to promote such behavior in Hollywood casting.
Even beyond the racial, sexist and violence issues that are inherent in The Lone Ranger, it can’t be recommended just because it is not a good movie. The plot is tired and it is easy to see where it is going even from the very beginning. The actors all seem to not be trying, and only play mimicries of their previous (and often far better) roles in other films. It is getting to the point where Johnny Depp, who was once considered quite a good actor, is repeating just the same motions over and over again. Captain Jack Sparrow was indeed a great character, but after four Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Alice in Wonderland (2010) and now this role, it is getting rather boring. Perhaps this is more the problem of Disney trying to cash in on a previously successful formula and character, but The Lone Ranger brings absolutely nothing new to the table. As such, it is probably best to give this one a miss and go see something that actually has heart instead of just being another result of corporate greed. (Rose Finlay)
Director Gore Verbinski’s interpretation of The Lone Ranger is easy entertainment. The straightforward storyline is infused with strong doses of historical information, and light satire. A little boy (Mason Cook), in a cowboy outfit with a mask and munching peanuts, spends his pennies at an oceanfront sideshow to enter the Wild West tent. Staring at canvas paintings of yesteryear – a Buffalo Herd and a Grizzly Bear, and the Noble Savage exhibit, the Indian startles him by moving. But recognizing the Indian’s name, he eagerly asks whether the story is true. The ancient Tonto (Depp), speaking at a snail’s pace, transports us from 1933 San Francisco to 1869 Texas and a dusty, sweltering train. Albeit in separate cars, Tonto and the man destined for fame as the Lone Ranger, are headed for Colby where the Transcontinental Railroad is forging ahead on its quest to reach the Pacific coast. This film is their story: how they met, the events and personalities that force their choices, and the mutual need and trust that forges their friendship, and their fate.
It seems popular sport for critics to pan this film. Many focus on early production problems, while others admonish the script, comedic elements, length, too many trains, and the thespians under- or overacting. Their basis is mostly unjustifiable; via the Internet it is easy to check facts. The iconic Lone Ranger, glorifying the Old West and righting wrongs, rode into American homes and hearts in a 1933 radio show created by WXYZ (Detroit, Michigan) for children. Supposedly based on a character in Zane Grey’s 1915 novel, "The Lone Star Ranger", the show was a hit with 2,956 radio episodes. Which spawned numerous films, books, a 1949 to 1957 popular TV series, comic books, marketing promotional items, video games, and the list goes on. Certain core elements – the mask, the silver bullet, and the Gioachino Rossini based theme music – have remained consistent, as has the central story. But there have certainly been many interpretations and variations, including on the Lone Ranger character’s name, Tonto’s tribe, what type of horses they rode, and catchwords phraseology.
Some historical points were whitewashed in the early radio and TV series, however strong ethical codes and guidelines were established. This film’s depiction of Native American tribes is more honest, and affirmative. That tribes were horribly decimated is not a myth, and they inherently believed in the mystical (the white horse) and in nature. Depp’s costume and make-up were taken from an original painting, and he does indeed speak Comanche in the film. The timeline and key elements we see are correct: the railroad’s unskilled laborers were primarily emigrant Chinese, Union and Confederate army veterans, and blacks escaping slavery; the hardened, gritty town and people; nitroglycerin had just been invented; the atrocities that occur, conferring that mankind, in its many flavors, was no different then than now. Serious issues are offset through injections of spoof, and nice little narrative quips. Even the chase scene at the end is grounded in the realm of reality.
Comparing Depp’s restrained Tonto to his Jack Sparrow character is poppycock. Hammer’s John Reid conveys the imbalance caused by trying to assimilate a rough past with educated refinement. Bonham Carter’s Red is a gal totally in control, and Fichtner’s Cavendish is the nasty we like to dislike. Bojan Bazelli’s cinematography – New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and California – was well received.
I think most critics had preconceived, i.e. unfulfilled, expectations, or simply went with the flow. Because the film is rife with subtleties that someone would have to be impervious not to notice: the sideshow tent; the silver bullet at the end; when government, business and criminality greedily join together over silver; the brothel Madam’s single-handed power that deters both the Calvary and dignitaries – George Washington had wooden teeth, so why the fuss over her wooden leg, and the contrived Indian uprising are but a few. The Lone Ranger is most beguiling, is fun, and unlike the blockbuster films where action overrides story, gives a lot. “Hi-Yo…” whoops, Tonto says this catchphrase is no longer allowed. (Marinell Haegelin)