Monday, September 16, 2013

The Lone Ranger

While visiting my father in Las Vegas over the Labor Day week, we wanted to see a film.  There really wasn't much that interested us.  I was mildly interested in Iron Man 3 but procrastinated because I knew my father would be bored (perhaps me too) with that film.  It left the discount theater on the Thursday I was there.  The next day, we decided to take potluck at the dollar theater.  Based on its showtime and reviews, I selected The Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp & Armie Hammer; directed by Gore Verbinski; (2013) - Official Website

I've noticed there is a trend for major release films to clock in around the 2.5 hour mark.  I can understand for epic films but The Lone Ranger was a summer popcorn film and its runtime was listed at 149 felt longer.

This film is has some interesting things going on but at its core, it is quite pretentious.  First, Johnny Depp is the star and he plays Tonto, the role traditionally thought of as a sidekick.  In order to give Depp screen-time commensurate with his billing, the film turns the Lone Ranger story on its head.  Of course, that assumes anyone cares or knows about the Lone Ranger story which is purely fictitious.  I am a child of the 1980s I have never scene a full episode of the Clayton Moore television version from the 1950s nor any of the films.  Frankly, I wasn't much of a fan of the Lone Ranger in my youth or today.

What I do recall was that the Lone Ranger was a rather stolid and earnest man and above all quite capable.  There was even some rules by which he lived his life and that youngsters in the 1950s could recite.  It seemed silly in the 1980s much less today.  The 2013 film turns everything I ever thought I knew about the Lone Ranger upside down.  As portrayed by Armie Hammer, he is a bumbling idealist, frequently lost without Tonto and the inferior Reid brother.  John Reid (Hammer) is an attorney who arrives in Texas to become the district attorney.  It is a return of sorts since his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is a widely respected Texas Ranger who lives in the town and acts as the de facto sheriff.  Tonto (Depp) and the condemned Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) are on the same train heading to Texas as John Reid.

Cavendish's gang frees him and Dan sets after him with a posse including the newly deputized John.  One of the men in the posse betrays them and Cavendish kills them all, apparently resorting to cannibalism after he kills Dan.  Tonto comes along and begins to bury them but miraculously John is still alive.  He adopts the mask because Tonto thinks it will give him an edge if Cavendish thinks he is dead.

The story goes on to incorporate a plot to capture controlling share of the first Transcontinental Railroad which is inexplicably re-routed through Texas.  I guess if the target audience didn't know who the Lone Ranger was, they didn't know about Promontory Summit.  It turned out that Butch Cavendish's brother was the President of the railroad and that Tonto had told the two brothers about silver near his tribe's land which resulted in the entire tribe being killed (except Tonto).  Dan's new widow is also the love interest for John which seems kind of unseemly to me.  Cavendish's brother also has designs on her.  Barry Pepper shows up as a US Calvary officer who is easily corrupted by the Brothers Cavendish.  I forgot to mention that the story is told in flashback from the 1930s when Tonto is an elderly man recounting his 65 year old story to a young boy.  Helena Bonham Carter showed up as a prostitute with an ivory prosthetic leg with a rifle built in.  The presence of Carter & Depp gave the film a vaguely Tim Burtonish feel.

The conventional thinking is that The Lone Ranger is a bloated, big budget action film that missed its target demographic (it's opening weekend audience had a higher ratio of over 50s than expected) and is a financial flop.  I'm not sure I would disagree.  However, throughout the film there is a criticism of "the white man's" actions and a deconstruction of the myth of the Old West.  Rather than subtle, I think it was too obvious.  There is also a fair amount of bloodshed and death which seems to get glossed over.

The Lone Ranger wants to have it both ways.  Despite this commentary on the rapaciousness of the white man and vivid depictions thereof, The Lone Ranger has several comedic scenes which I (nor anyone else in the theater) chose to laugh at.  Hammer and Depp delivered lines which fell flat.

On top of all this, many have commented about the cinematic references in the film.  Many of the exteriors were shot in Monument Valley which call to mind John Ford for anyone familiar with his films.  I also detected references to various Spaghetti Westerns, AMC's Hell on Wheels and other films.

The film was beset with budgetary and production problems.  One crew member died during the filming.  I don't know how these problems affected the final version of the film but The Lone Ranger felt muddled to me.  Perhaps not all things to all people but too many things to too many people, or as the box office indicated, too few people.

I can't say I disliked the film completely.  Given the admission price ($1.50) and alternative uses of that 2.5 hours on that specific day, I'm glad I chose The Lone Ranger but I would be hard pressed to recommend the film to anyone.  If I had seen the film in the Bay Area and without the familial obligations I have when I visit my father, I would regretted my choice.  For what it's worth, my father was largely neutral on the film; complaining mostly about its length.  Tellingly, we barely discussed the film compared to the previous films we have seen together.

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