Eric Plaag and Matt Smith

An Epic Travesty: a review of The Lone Ranger

In Film, Reviews on July 19, 2013 at 9:17 am

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by Matt Smith

I want to start by saying that there are some things that The Lone Ranger does pretty well. Its action scenes are thrilling. The performances by much of the cast, Armie Hammer included, are pretty great and are in line with most of what I remember from listening to the radio show with my grandmother and the reruns of the TV show I’d sometimes see on TV early in the morning. I always liked that classical sensibility and the combination of dandiness and adventure that the material always seemed to warrant.

But these things aside, The Lone Ranger is a pretty miserable movie-going experience. Despite all the ingredients that led to success with The Pirates of the Caribbean (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot – and Revolutionary Road scribe Justin Haythe – director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp), the film is a big hot mess. And not in a good way.

Tonally, it’s all over the place. Is this supposed to be a straight-up action-adventure film? Is it a supernatural-tinged action-comedy? Is it a Western? Is it a revisionist Western? Is it a comedy? I honestly cannot tell you what the movie is generically. The wild shifts from scene to scene – between bloodletting and slapstick, from broad character-driven story to extremely detailed plot-oriented action – make no sense and really do not add up to very much. Furthermore, I think this indecision on the part of the filmmakers can be chalked up to two things, both intimately intertwined.

First, we have the character of Tonto, who is not a Native American character worth paying any real attention to. Awash in classical Western notions of the “noble savage” (it tells us so right there at the beginning of the film), and played as a goofball semi-mystical caricature by Depp, it’s a wasted opportunity to actually honor a people who were nearly wiped out by the European colonization of their country and the general notion even today that Native cultures and their traditions are relics of the past. But most of this isn’t even Depp’s fault, I would argue.

No, I think the root of the Tonto issue actually lay in the foundation of the script and the indecisiveness of either the screenwriters or Verbinski when it comes to the tone. This is especially evident in the scenes which take place at a carnival in 1933. The film opens with a scene in which a kid dressed in a mask and white hat enters a sideshow exhibition on the exploits of heroes of the old West. He enters a tent that features stuffed animals and scenes of the Wild West where he comes upon an enclosure entitled, “The Noble Savage in his Natural Habitat.” This is certainly what we get.

It turns out that the plastic-looking statue in this enclosure isn’t a statue at all, but Tonto himself, who is at this point in his life a bumbling old man unsure of what’s real and what isn’t. He mistakes the kid for The Lone Ranger, and the movie then consists of flashes back to this exhibit as Tonto recounts the legend of their first adventure together. A lazy device that only exacerbates a portrayal of Tonto as an idiot who has disgraced his tribe rather than a strong Native American presence. A portrayal that could be chalked up to his terrible betrayal of his people and his ensuing loss of sanity were it not for the bookend scenes at the carnival that pretty much negate that by TOTALLY playing into bullshit New Age “mysticisms-and-wisdom-of” the Native Americans hip-ness.

The second major issue is that the film is too damned long. Granted, shaving off the roughly twenty-five minutes of old Tonto and the stupid kid would probably help a bit, but that’s almost beside the point. The plot itself is too convoluted and mixed around. The basic set-up is pretty classic: a crooked railroad baron is out for gold and power and the Ranger and his side-kick must stop them. There are so many side quests and derailed plot lines throughout, however, that the main threat – that this wicked man could in fact gain everything he wants – loses its sense of urgency.

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On top of that, the bad guys are all extremely dumb, including William Fichter’s creepy Butch Cavendish, who could seemingly dispatch any and everyone at any time, but wants to talk about some stuff later in the film that totally disarms his ability to get shit done in the most brutal way possible. The guy who is introduced to us by eating the heart of the Ranger’s brother ends up a largely action-less villain who is dispatched by a crazy person and a slightly inept Ranger. A waste of a terrific performance from the alway reliable Fichter.

Guys, just stay away from this one. The hype is real; it’s a stinker. This is coming from a guy who thought that John Carter was a victim of critical overthink and bad initial press largely related to its production woes than the film itself. This is the opposite. Everything you’ve read is true. A damn shame and a travesty for Walt Disney Pictures, who just can’t seem to figure out their live-action productions.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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