Friday, January 15, 2016

The Lone Ranger Film Review


Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, William Fitchner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Length: 149 Minutes

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Nothing is more American than the Wild West. Outlaws and cutthroats, whores and lawmen, these are some of the classic archetypes that come to mind when one thinks of that period of American history. Glamorized in the age of the radio, a new legend from that era was created. This character embodied the laws and culture of our great country, all while rounding up bad guys with his Native American sidekick. That legend was known as The Lone Ranger, and sadly, that legend was nowhere to be found on July the Fourth.

It’s 1933 in San Francisco, and a young boy dressed in a familiar costume enters a Wild West exhibit at a carnival. The boy sees many long dead relics of that famous period. He passes a stuffed buffalo, a stuffed grizzly bear, and a not so stuffed Johnny Depp in heavy prosthetic makeup. The Johnny Depp reveals himself to be Tonto, friend of the legendary Lone Ranger. The boy listens closely as Tonto tells him the story of how he met the Ranger, and their first great adventure together. Flashback to 1869, in Texas, and a young District Attorney catches a train to meet with his brother’s family as well as convict the cannibalistic outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner), for the murder of several Comanches. Butch’s gang shows up and frees him and murders countless more innocents.

The young D.A., known as John Reid, barely escapes with his life with the help of a younger Tonto. Reid’s brother, a Texas Ranger, deputizes his brother and the pair set out with a company of other rangers to apprehend the fugitive Butch. Along their journey they are ambushed and all of the Rangers are killed, including Reid’s brother. Assuming that John is dead, Butch and his men vacate the area. Tonto finds the bodies of the men and buries them, when suddenly John shows signs of life. Taking the lawman under his wing, Tonto agrees to aid John in finding his brother’s killer and bring him to justice.

The first twenty minutes of this movie play out like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, in that it paints an unflinchingly dark portrait of a lawless and violent West in total contradiction to the cheesy and family friendly setting of the radio and television series. For a Disney film I was truly shocked at the amount of gore and murder thrown on the screen in such a short span. Throw in some mysticism and you have what would seem to be the makings of a new, dark vision for the classic hero.

However, on the edge of a dime, the film abandons its dark setting and suddenly you’re thrown from scene to scene where one moment the film’s heroes are blundering their way through situations (a la Captain Jack Sparrow), to scenes where stoic Native Americans are fearlessly and heroically charging a line of cavalrymen armed with gatling guns in an attempt to recreate our country’s least proud moments.

On top of all this are totally annoying flashbacks to the child and Tonto clearing up the kinks and plot holes in his tale. The filmmakers don’t seem to know who they want to enjoy this movie, so they try to appeal to everyone with a little comedy, a helping of action, and some flaccid empathy for the raping of the native peoples of this land.

Mixed together in a high budget blender, these elements detract from one another, and make watching this film a totally uncomfortable experience. Adding to the overall lack of enjoyment are Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the man who would be The Lone Ranger. Depp is quoted as saying that he wanted his portrayal of Tonto, “to try to right the wrongs of the past”. Well, he spectacularly fails. His version of Tonto is little more than a bastardized Jack Sparrow who speaks in broken one liners, and clumsily aids the Lone Ranger with profoundly stupid slapstick routines.

When real Native Americans take the screen, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of dislocation with Tonto’s character. Amrie Hammer on the other hand spends almost all two hours of the film whining and moaning, with the last twenty minutes showcasing a miraculous transformation into a half assed hero with little to no visual evidence of his metamorphosis. These two don’t even try to make the bipolar script work and instead attach cement shoes to it and jump into a river with it.

Even worse is the attempted metaphor for the destructive nature of industrialism. Without spoiling too much, the rabbits in this film (who make more than one frighteningly off putting appearance) make the demon bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail look like an innocent household pet.

Throughout the movie, whenever something freakishly unexplainable happens, Tonto lazily drones that nature is out of balance. Any self respecting Native American should also stay away from this film, as it features a horrific massacre of hundreds of young Comanche warriors as a side note in one of the film’s later action setpieces. This scene was so heartbreakingly offensive, and played off so casually,  that anything that came before and after it could never hope to rectify its utter wrongness.

The Lone Ranger used to be a hero that you could enjoy listening to or watching on a quiet evening with your children. A hero that would keep things nice and clean for the little ones while still starring in a wild adventure. Now, however, he’s the titular character in a truamatizingly violent, ignorant, piece of trash that masquerades as a thoughtful and humorous take on a dark time. There is nothing funny about this picture, and nothing thoughtful. There is only an absence of everything that you go to the movies for. Entertainment.

Score: 2

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