One of the greatest tragedies of modern cinema is how little Hollywood believes in the Western. Much like the expansion of the railroad killing off the best parts of the Wild West, today’s world of mega-blockbusters has put the genre, often mis-labeled as “too slow”, on a dusty, old shelf.
Sadly I don’t think “The Lone Ranger” will be doing much to revive one of my favorite genres. On top of what I’ll cover in my review, the film has only made $75 million in its first 2 weeks. With conservative numbers putting the production budget around $215 million, the film could end up costing Disney hundreds (with an ‘s’) of millions of dollars. But enough numbers, let’s talk about the film itself.
“The Lone Ranger” tells the stories of Tanto (Johnny Depp) and John Reid (Armie Hammer playing the titular character) and how each man seeks for justice and revenge in the Old West. Though the film may not carry his name, Tanto is the main character of the film. He is the one telling the story, he is the heart of the film and he is the one being played by Johnny Depp. Clearly the Disney executives’ faith in Hammer’s star power is on a short leash as they make him a rather bland hero in a genre known for great heroes.
After coming out west to bring order to his hometown, District Attorney John Reid is deputized by his brother (James Badge Dale in yet another shamefully small role) to track down the criminal Butch Cavendish (a disgustingly evil William Fichtner) and his gang. What happens instead is that the Reid brothers and their posse are killed in an ambush. John Reid miraculously survives the attack and, as Tanto puts it, is resurrected as a “spirit walker”. This new label gives Reid seemingly perfect marksmanship and the ability to not die, both of which seriously damage the film in my opinion.
Reid and Tanto meet by chance at the beginning of the film, but they quickly discover that they are tracking the same man who hurt people they care about. With Tanto being a skilled fighter and Reid becoming a supernaturally-enhanced gunslinger, the audience would expect for the film to become a roaring adventure seeking justice once Hammer becomes the Lone Ranger. However the rest of the film moves at a snail’s pace once the mask is put on.
Part of what makes “The Lone Ranger” feel 3 hours long is a series of scenes involving Tanto telling his tales to a young boy in the 20th century. They serve no purpose other than giving Depp a few extra scenes to make Tanto look even more like Jack Sparrow, but add a solid 15 minutes to the film.
What really hurts the film is that it’s not sure if it wants to be a true Western or just “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the West. There are funny scenes that look like they belong in a family-friendly adventure film and then there are scenes where the villain eats a man’s heart. This back-and-forth makes the film feel like it’s several different scripts mashed together. Surprise: the film went through a number of re-writes during early production and even while they were shooting it.
The problems in “The Lone Ranger” appear often and are a cancer to the overall product, but there are also some good things. Johnny Depp, despite being too reminiscent of his “Pirates” character, delivers a great performance as Tanto. There are some painful parts to his story and Depp has a way of really displaying the character’s lifetime of suffering in addition to the more Sparrow-like comedic scenes. Fichtner’s villain is also great as he really feels like a proper Western villain. His performance gives the film a lot of credibility.
Although production costs really hurt the film financially, director Gore Verbinski made the artistic decision to recreate trains from the time period to give the film a more visually-satifying feel. Since a large portion of the film takes place on said trains, they were a nice, albeit expensive, touch.
“The Lone Ranger” sincerely tries at times to be a proper Western, but the excessive use of CGI and tired humor make an already long film unworthy of sticking around for.
My next review will be “Pacific Rim”, so come back this weekend to see what I thought.