THE LONE RANGER review by Mark Walters – Johnny Depp & Armie Hammer revive a classic hero

THE LONE RANGER review by Mark Walters – Johnny Depp & Armie Hammer revive a classic hero


Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer’s THE LONE RANGER is a film some might expect to be a disaster, and I say that simply based on facts leading up to it. Firstly, it was a project reportedly of little interest to Disney and the powers that be, but one that Johnny Depp pushed strongly for… and then there’s the casting of Depp in itself, playing an iconic Native American figure in a new and bizarre-looking way. There was bound to be backlash and racial arguments, which are still going on. Then there’s the budget, which (again, based on reports) kept ballooning up to astronomical figures, and at present is said to be $250 million… for a Western. The last time we saw this sort of budget and racial talk about a Western was the disasterous WILD, WILD WEST movie with Will Smith, which incidentally was also similar as it featured a major star and director re-teaming after coming off another highly-successful project (I’m referring to director Barry Sonnenfeld and Will being in MEN IN BLACK previously). In this case it’s director Gore Verbinski and Depp back together from their PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, along with Hollywood uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney releasing it. Even the trailers push the PIRATES pedigree behind the film. But let’s not forget, this is a movie about ‘The Lone Ranger’, who here is played by Armie Hammer – a name that still garners a collective “Who?!?” by many moviegoers, though I’m sure the studio is hoping Depp’s name and willingness to push the film (he’s also a producer on it) will overshadow whoever might be playing the title role.

The story opens (oddly) in 1933 at a carnival in San Francisco – we see the famous bridge under construction in the background. A young boy dressed like a cowboy and wearing a mask around his eyes enters an exhibit about The Old West, and while wondering around he discovers a very old Indian in a display is not a wax figure but actually a real man. They begin to talk, and we see this is Tonto (played by Depp in old age makeup), now very old and tired, but still enthusiastic about his history with the famous masked man. As Tonto narrates the story to the young boy, we’re taken back to 1867 in Colby, Texas. Hometown boy turned attorney John Reid (Armie Hammer) is coming back on a train that also has a prison car holding a nefarious baddie named Butch Cavendish (the always-wonderful William Fichtner) and a strange-looking Indian named Tonto… can you guess where this is going? Butch tries to break out, Tonto tries to stop him, John intervenes and insists the law should take care of Cavendish, who ends up getting away anyway. Back in town, John reunites with his brother Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) and a tracking posse who pursue Cavendish into the mountains of Monument Valley (it’s a big Hollywood Western, of course Monument Valley is in there). Amidst their mission, the posse is ambushed and all are (seemingly) killed. Tonto finds the men, and buries them, but John survives and becomes the focus of a “Spirit Horse” that Tonto also befriends. Upon realizing what has happened, and that they both share a common enemy and quest for vengeance, John partners with Tonto and becomes a masked rider as the two do what they must to hunt down Cavendish.

Considering the PIRATES pedigree behind the film, and the studio’s effort to push that aspect on potential audiences, some may be expecting Depp’s “Tonto” to be similar to Jack Sparrow, or at least on the same level of eccentric quality. While his portrayal of the iconic Native American has its strange moments, this is a much more subdued performance than what many might be anticipating. Tonto here is more of a lost soul that has been damaged by what he’s seen. His weird qualities come from bad history, not just him being a guy that’s strange for the sake of being strange. That’s not to say there aren’t some funny moments with Depp, and he does his best to make the serious-toned Tonto endearing to the viewer, but there’s nowhere near the magic of Captain Jack in here. The film’s biggest misfire is actually the result of all the “Old Tonto” scenes peppered throughout where Depp (in extreme old age makeup) is telling a young boy (who seems pretty doubting) the story of The Lone Ranger, and subsequently leading us into the next inevitable scene. The problem is all of those Old Tonto moments are completely unnecessary, and really just drag the film down, adding to its already bloated 2 1/2 hour running time – make sure to pee first. Had they not shot those scenes or just cut them out entirely, the film would have benefitted for it, and the audience wouldn’t have missed them – trust me on this. As for Armie Hammer, it’s never an enviable position for an actor to have to take on such a well known character that has been engrained in people’s memories from a long history in the world of entertainment. Just like Henry Cavill stepping into the role of Superman, or Christian Bale taking over the character of Batman, there’s inevitably going to be a lot of haters who condemn the casting before they even see the finished product. That said, Hammer does a fine job playing the imperfect and unprepared hero. His Lone Ranger is vulnerable and inexperienced, and it makes for a more genuine and (as hard as it may seem to imagine) believable experience for the audience. Had the filmmakers pushed his John Reid as a perfect hero from his inception, the end result would have come off as lazy and unsatisfying. Their direction with the character is more appropriate and makes for a fun time. I should also note that while Depp is the selling point for the movie, Hammer is given plenty to do and doesn’t come off as the second banana some might expect him to be. The movie is called THE LONE RANGER after all, so it can’t be The Tonto Show the whole time.

William Fichtner is always terrific, and never more than when he’s playing a bad guy. His role as Cavendish is effective and creepy, and he manages to chew pretty much every second of screen time he’s allowed. I actually would have liked more of him in the film, but what is there is pretty great. Tom Wilkinson also turns in a fine performance as the mysterious railroad tycoon with questionable motivations. Ruth Wilson doesn’t seem to get the proper chance to deliver enough weight as the love interest of the piece, but does her best with the dialogue and scenes she’s in. James Badge Dale plays a likable tough guy brother to Hammer’s character, and I enjoyed seeing him in a more accessible role for a change. One of the strangest inclusions is Helena Bonham Carter as a whorehouse madame with a wooden gun leg. I have no doubt she’s in the film strictly because Depp wanted her there, but her character doesn’t seem to get a proper through line, just shows up a few times as a recognizable face. Barry Pepper also feels a little wasted as a U.S. Calvary captain, who seems pushed into his position with the story, but never seems to be fully developed emotionally the way he could have been.

Action lovers will have plenty to savor, and Verbinski makes the most of the film’s extreme budget – every dollar is definitely there for us to see, and with all the excitement in the various fight scenes and chases, it’s a wonder this wasn’t presented in 3D… shocking actually. There’s also some unexpected moments that are quite strange, as if Gore’s experience on the wonderfully odd RANGO carried over into his mindset when making a live action production… just wait until you see the rabbits! I was a little surprised at the level of violence in the film, particularly in one murder scene where what’s implied and not shown may just be one of the most graphic deaths in movies this year. I remember after seeing WHITE HOUSE DOWN that it seems like PG-13 movies are getting away with more and more death as if it’s no big deal, and this movie is another example of violence to excess as long as the blood is downplayed. It’s particularly strange to see this in a Disney production, as I’d think the studio would want that sort of thing toned down for families. In the PIRATES movies, death scenes weren’t as distracting as you were watching more of a fantasy” film, but here the Western death is pretty realistic in its presentation and probably something some parents should be a little concerned about before taking really young kids. Being someone who loves Westerns, I have no problem personally with violent action in those types of movies, but this is undoubtedly being touted as more “family” fare, so it seemed a little jarring at times. Thankfully the overall tone of the piece, particularly in the last 30 minutes or so, is one of fun and adventure. Verbinski does a good job taking the audience on a ride that delivers on excitement, and will likely have people leaving the theater with a smile on their face.

And yes, for those wondering, the William Tell Overture is used in it, rather prominently in at least two major scenes. In fact Hans Zimmer’s score is a big part of what works in the film, and he does a nice job of incorporating the classic theme while evolving it into his own sound for the movie’s biggest action sequence. Zimmer also pays homage to Ennio Morricone and his classic Western scores for Sergio Leone films – there’s more than a few hints of recognizable themes mixed into Hans’ powerful score on this project.

Overall THE LONE RANGER is a fun movie experience that will be pleasing to most, though frustrating to many as well with its long running time. Outside of the tedious “Old Tonto” scenes and the somewhat excessive violence for a Disney movie, I found myself pleasantly surprised with the end result. It’s not a film I’d run right out to see again, but something I wouldn’t mind revisiting down the road.

THE LONE RANGER opens July 3, 2013

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.