Mark Reviews Movies

The Lone Ranger (2013)


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter, Bryant Prince

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material)

Running Time: 2:29

Release Date: 7/3/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 3, 2013

"But the Lone Ranger and Tonto are good guys," bemoans a young fan of the heroes when he learns from a first-hand account—in a clunky framing device—that his idols were once involved in a bank robbery. The kid is right, but it's a little strange that, of all the things that are rather unheroic about these versions of the famous characters, the bank robbery is the item that sticks in his craw. The Lone Ranger features a Tonto (Johnny Depp, speaking in broken English and gratuitously mugging for the camera—perhaps it's for the best that a Native American actor has been spared the indignity of the role) who's driven solely by revenge and a Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) who accidentally crushes the heads of two bad guys under a giant wooden beam.

It's played for laughs, too, that rather horrific incident in which two human beings' skulls are flattened, really. The camera holds on it. There are the baddies torsos, and they eventually meet the beam, which is lying flush to the ground. It was supposed to be a warning shot, our inept hero cries after his partner exclaims, "Great shot!"

The Lone Ranger isn't like this, right? He's supposed to be a masked man fighting for justice, right? There's something jarringly misanthropic about screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio's rendition of the iconic hero of radio (from the 1930s to the '50s), film (in serial form in the late '30s and various features in later decades), and television (in the '40s and '50s). This is a Lone Ranger very much of this current era, where movie heroes don't just arrest bad guys anymore but must pulverize them. Our hero here is a man who claims to desire justice under the law, but for a man who asserts that philosophy, he sure does leave a lot of corpses in his wake (The William Tell Overture, vamping at the beginning of the climax so that a bunch of people can be shot, starts sounding like "Ride of the Valkyries").

Of course, the violence perpetrated by our heroes is tame compared to that done by the movie's villains, who are not merely bad but evil. The first primary antagonist is a bloodthirsty outlaw named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), who's known for cutting out and eating the hearts of his foes. Early on, we get to watch this act (The movie somehow gets away with a PG-13 rating because the cutting in question is shot at such an awkward angle that it appears he's disemboweling his victim—as if that makes it better—and the actual eating of the heart is shown in a reflection; the MPAA ratings board, which has been far too lax in terms of violence as of late, has a lot to answer for with this), and it sets a tone of malevolence that permeates the rest of the movie.

Before he becomes the Lone Ranger, John Reid is a prosecutor traveling by train from the big city to join his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) in Texas, and he's caught up in an attempt by Cavendish's men to break their boss out of the prison car, which leads to the first of two spectacular train crashes that serve as exclamation points for the movie's two major action sequences (Both involve trains, proving the old adage of lazy screenwriting that, if it's not broke, keep using it until it breaks). Cavendish escapes, and John joins his brother a group of other Texas Rangers to track him. There's an ambush, and only John survives, "brought back to life" by a white spirit horse and Tonto, who's convinced the horse has chosen the wrong man to be a hero.

The story is a straightforward revenge plot set against a bizarre account of the Old West, with talk of supernatural beings and curses (This line of thought is explained away by a character's insanity while ignoring moments—ravenous bunnies and a hunk of silver that causes visions—in which it's made perfectly clear that there is something otherworldly happening), a brothel owner (Helena Bonham Carter) with an ivory leg hiding a shotgun, a corrupt railroad manager (Tom Wilkinson) who wants to unite the country in order so that he might control it (or something), and a cavalry captain (Barry Pepper) who would rather be a tool of the evil railroad man and kill every Native American than live with the guilt that he was a tool of the same man in a plot to kill every Native American that might get in the way of industrial progress.

It's a confounding moral decision, but the worst rests with movie itself. Note that there's the scene in The Lone Ranger in which the slaughter of Tonto's former tribe, fighting back against the men who have framed them for killing innocent women and children, is paid off with a gag about a horse standing on the branch of a tree, so the movie has downplaying genocide going for it.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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