Gore Verbinski knows how to do action and the action scenes here are at times incredible, the finale in particular is almost worth the price of admission, but I wouldn’t necessarily call this an action film. There are other motives on display here and the film takes its time to build out characters and try to send a pretty subversive message in a giant 250 million dollar blockbuster. White people are bad. Particularly American white people and I can’t really disagree with that sentiment. Sure it’s not an all encompassing generalization, but the film isn’t afraid to vilify the rich and powerful from the common criminal all the way up through our corporate leaders and military officials. Those accusations aren’t haphazard either, they are laid out with care and precision and the film conveys this through the treatment of Native Americans. The atrocities we couldn’t even imagine in this day and age in the United States were handed out to the so called “savages” who inhabited our country’s lands long before any white people did and any awareness a major film like this can bring to that has to be appreciated. The film sees the remaining Comanche tribes wiped out in the name of commerce, power and “progress” and it pulls few punches along the way. Is this the ideal subject matter audiences are looking for in their summer blockbuster fare, probably not, but I think Verbinski and Depp (who is an outspoken proponent of this awareness) deserve props for being able to weave this into a fairly entertaining summer movie.
Entertaining is a weird word for the film though, because outside the very fun finale, scored by the infectious Hans Zimmer adaptation of the William Tell Overture, things are often rather dark and brutal. The film’s extended opening sequences follow the arrival of John Reid, our future Lone Ranger, to the town Colby, Texas where his brother, Dan, is a Texas Ranger trying to bring down the villain Butch Cavendish. And let me tell you, Butch is a son of a bitch, and the film does not hold back from the violence that he doles out to his victims along the way. The film does an effective job of connecting John to his brother and his family that raises the stakes of the impending drama that is about to unfold. Tonto is folded in less smoothly, but the comedy around him and the spirit horse that helps choose John is effective and rarely “too much.” As the film goes on there are some odd diversions and a couple of plot lines that could have been cut to have helped streamline things, but I was rarely bored during the picture. The set pieces that they sprinkle about are all well thought out and executed as well as you would expect from Verbinski, if only they didn’t give in to a couple of those tropes every “buddy” film seems to have to go through nowadays.
Any of the hiccups with the plotting are easily forgiven though as Verbinski fills his film with an insanely talented cast from top to bottom. Does Helena Bonham Carter’s character need to be in this film, no not at all, but she is great at hamming it up in her few scenes and makes it work even if there is no depth or need for the character to be around. Same goes for Barry Pepper (Barry Pepper!), I understand the need to put a face to the military who have to become sort of villains by the end of the picture, but they could have just as easily let them be faceless drones following orders. Though again, Pepper is good and makes it work even if it is probably a better film without him. Tom Wilkinson makes us buy into what we need to from his convoluted Cole, James Badge Dale continues to be the most under appreciated actor in Hollywood (Free Rubicon!) and Ruth Wilson does a fine job of not being just another damsel in distress. Armie Hammer makes for a fun Lone Ranger, but for all his likability it would have been fun to see him also get to be a bit more bad ass. Johnny Depp is in out there mode again here, but he gets the most laughs in the film that aren’t centered around the horse and I think he does a nice job of carrying the weight of Tonto’s affective back story as well. William Fichtner is the standout though as Butch who he just plays nasty as hell. They somehow got away with him doing something so reprehensible that I don’t know how it made it into a PG-13, let alone a Disney, movie. I guess if you don’t show it?
Plotting and story aside, the film is a technical marvel from Verbinski. A lot of people have made a point of this film’s budget when talking about it, but it should only be in praise that every penny is up on the screen. Not once did I doubt the visuals or the reality of the film and this is a movie with a horse doing untold number of acrobatics throughout the picture. As I’ve mentioned, Verbinski is a visual master who shoots action about as good as anyone and his work here is as strong in any of his other major films. The look and feel of the Old West are also wonderfully recreated as the production design is beautifully captured by some of the best camera work of the year. The oddest part of the picture is a flashback storytelling device that has little use outside setting up how quickly history is forgotten in our society. That message is appreciated, and it is fine to keep it in there, but we didn’t need to go back to it as many times as we did.
The Lone Ranger is often just an OK movie, but when it shines it can possibly go toe to toe with any other blockbuster this summer. The cast helps lift a problematic script at times, but that same script cares about its characters which is hard to find in this blockbuster filled day and age. Fans of Verbinski’s previous big budget efforts will surely find plenty to enjoy here, but I wonder what could have been if some of the film’s issues had been ironed out.
The Lone Ranger is a B-