Tonto: Johnny Depp
Butch Cavendish: William Fichtner
Cole: Tom Wilkinson
Rebecca Reid: Ruth Wilson
Red Harrington: Helena Bonham Carter
Dan Reid: James Badge Dale
Danny: Bryant Prince
Fuller: Barry Pepper
Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Gore Verbinski. Written by Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. Running time: 149 min. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material).
Have you ever been walking along the sidewalk and tripped on your own pant leg? There’s no reasonable explanation for it. It can happen to anyone. Most of us have been walking for years with expert skill. But somehow, every once and a while we trip on something that isn’t an obstacle. That’s how I feel about the new film adaptation of “The Lone Ranger”.
It isn’t only the story of The Lone Ranger that trips up here. There are many entities tripping on this sidewalk. It’s a stagger for the western genre. It’s a stumble for the filmmakers, who are just coming off the wonderful animated western “Rango”. It’s a misstep for director Gore Verbinski, whose “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy revitalized a classic adventure genre. It’s a lurch for Disney, which has been on a live action run since the first “Pirates” movie became such a success. It’s a miscalculation for Johnny Depp; who takes such risks as an actor, he has a little more experience with the sidewalk slip than the rest.
I think its problems begin by making Tonto the central character rather than the Lone Ranger. That’s kind of burying the lead. The story employs a framing mechanism that takes place in San Francisco, 1933, where a kid wearing a Lone Ranger outfit peruses a wild west show only to find that an ancient Tonto is a living breathing exhibit. This framing device adds little to the story except to further emphasize that Johnny Depp is the bigger star as Tonto than Armie Hammer is as the Ranger. Perhaps they should’ve titled the movie “The Crazy Indian and His Puppet White Man”. I suppose the franchise connection would’ve been lost in that title.
The actual story involves a criminal named Butch Cavendish, a very nasty looking William Fichtner in a long awaited leading villain role. Cavendish is being brought to the town of Colby, in 1869, where he is to be executed by hanging for his crimes against the Texas Rangers and the Comanche Indian tribe. The train bringing Cavendish to Colby also contains fellow prisoner Tonto, who is after Cavendish out of revenge, thinking that he is an evil spirit called the Wendigo who destroyed his village. The train also transports John Reid, returning home from law school to act as the county’s first District Attorney. John’s brother Dan is the ranking officer in the area’s Texas Rangers. When Cavendish escapes, Dan and John set out with a posse to bring him back for a trial. Things don’t go so well for the brothers.
There is a great deal of humor to be found in the film, which for the most part keeps the rather over-used storyline of revenge and the building of a railroad interesting. After Tonto has discovered the ambushed posse and dug graves for the seven fallen Rangers, a white spirit horse appears and chooses John to return to life as a “spirit walker,” although, I don’t believe he was ever actually dead. Tonto tries to convince the horse that he’s chosen the wrong Reid. There is another spiritual angle introduced by Tonto about nature being out of sorts that doesn’t go anywhere. There are a couple of times this notion is used for some comedy, but I really don’t think the filmmakers knew what to do with the rabid prairie rabbits they invented.
Verbinski has always embraced the unusual in what would normally be fairly traditional plots, but this time it seems his weird bits were forced upon the story rather than evolving naturally out of it. Depp is a great performer, and he’s funny here; but I’m not sure this crazy Indian representation of Tonto serves the story so much as the story serves him. Most of the Tonto background could’ve waited for a sequel. That way The Lone Ranger himself could’ve been more fully developed. John places a great deal of emphasis on the justice system, but he never gets the chance to put it to the test before he abandons it.
There are a plethora of ideas to explore here, but the production seems to focus more on quantity than quality of substance. The railroad theme is an often-explored one in the western, representing the potential for corporate and government greed and corruption in our country. Here the railroad plot is a major device, but its role in the film is blurred by Tonto’s involvement in it. It’s obvious Verbinski is a fan of the western genre, but he overcomplicates it with the craziness of Tonto, the notion of nature being out of balance and the useless framing device. He even gets around to employing the original Lone Ranger theme music from the “William Tell Overture”, but composer Hans Zimmer doesn’t make much effort to arrange the music to better fit the mood of his rather heavy handed original score.