<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Mason Elston Cook
Though some critics have panned it, this re-imagining of a 1950s American TV series has plenty of entertainment and charm.
Gore Verbinski was the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (with Ranger producer Jerry Bruckheimer) and Rango. And just like director Tim Burton, Verbinski likes working with the weird and wonderful Johnny Depp. Sure they’ve brought some of that Pirates charm and wit along with them in The Lone Ranger, and why should that be a bad thing?
I just watched a bit of the original Ranger TV series (see it here): in black and white with simple story lines of bad guys who take advantage of the innocent, the helpless and the powerless (popular themes for most American TV shows till the 90s). The vigilante hero on his white horse, The Lone Ranger and his trusty sidekick, American Indian Tonto would have to come to the rescue. Now even though I can remember watching some episodes as a kid in the late 70s (yes, I’m that old!) I just realised how bland they were. Well compared to this movie, certainly.
Producers Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp thought of taking a look at this Western from the point of view of the sidekick, Tonto. That Depp happens to be playing the sidekick may or may not have anything to do with this decision. “When I watched the show, I just didn’t understand why Tonto was the sidekick,” Depp has said. (Read about that and production woes faced by the crew of The Lone Ranger at CS Monitor here.)
Armie Hammer plays District Attorney John Reid (The Lone Ranger) who is a lawman with a conscience and at first, believes in justice and the system. But after his Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is killed by a notorious escaped felon called Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who eats his heart raw, John realises he has to ‘wear a mask’. Of course with a little help from a native Indian who is himself on a quest for retribution.
Yes it’s a long movie: over two hours but I did not feel it one bit (in fact, I think I feel duration torturing me more during Hindi films). Yes Johnny Depp is playing Johnny Depp: some have mentioned scenes are reminiscent of him in Pirates but I think his performance in The Lone Ranger is wonderfully understated and effective. He brings a smile to your face with just three words and a twitch of his eye. Depp has also mentioned his wish to show how the American Indians were persecuted during the time for the ‘white man’s’ own selfish purposes. And the film does that in a brutally honest and hard-hitting way.
But there’s plenty of fun to be had. The trains, the horses, the chases, the silver, the Chinese… and of course the wonderful Madame of the brothel, Red, played by Helena Bonham Carter in one of her stupendous roles. You know, you couldn’t imagine films without these characters. Which is why it’s sad that Depp announced The Lone Ranger would be his last film (partially due to the poor reception it has gotten). Of course, he has said that before, moody but brilliant actor that he is. And in the wonderful getup and makeup inspired by a painting and not the original look of Tonto (Read this article at JoBlo.com about the Origins of his make-up design here), Depp just pops out of the screen, even though this film is – thankfully – not in 3D.
Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger does seem a bit bumbling. But then this is meant to be a part funny/part serious take on the original series. And yes, Tonto does stand out more than the Ranger but you’ll probably remember the film for the banter and one-liners that zing across between them both.
The villains are suitably slithery, the weirdoes are wonderfully wacky and the heroes are people you would root for. This isn’t supposed to be a serious Western. Though it has hints of Pirates, I find The Lone Ranger has a lot more depth of story and social message.
The Lone Ranger is a wonderfully shot film with sweeping vistas of deserts and towering rocks and grand shots of locomotives and rivers. Entertaining, informative, fun and scored beautifully by the one and only Hans Zimmer, The Lone Ranger is one of my favourite films so far this year; I even liked it better than the box office hit of the week, Despicable Me 2.