There are films that wrap you up in their embrace, lavishing you with fully formed stories, wonderful acting and sumptuous images. And then there’s films like The Lone Ranger. While watching the 149 minute (ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY NINE MINUTE) monstrosity, I was vaguely aware that there was a movie going on. I fully understood that there were images being projected and that they were being seen by my eyes but not once during the entirety of this film did I feel I was truly experiencing a movie. More importantly, anything that was possible to latch onto just gets trampled by on bad characterizations, wonky politics, and flat performances. In short, The Lone Ranger is more of an endurance test than an enjoyable film.
The majority of the film is set in the 1800s and told in three major movements split by segments in 1933 (when The Lone Ranger first debuted as a radio show). A young boy stumbles upon an exhibit in San Francisco and begins speaking with the noble savage on display. It is from then we are transported back to Colby, Texas of the 1800s. The film begins with an epic set piece on a train that set a very high bar that film never manages to quite get back to. After villain Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) escape and Tonto (Johnny Depp) and John Reid (Armie Hammer) barely keep their lives, a group of Texas Rangers, including Reid, ride out to capture him. They are ambushed and everyone meets an unfortunate end. But thanks to some divine intervention by way of a great spirit horse and Tonto, John Reid is resurrected as the Lone Ranger, who accompanies Tonto on his quest to bring Butch to justice, while also trying to prevent the growing escalation between the Whites and Native Americans from turning into all out war.
The best part of this film was the horse Silver, showcasing some of the best animal acting this side of Uggie from The Artist. The horse got the most laughs out of anything and anyone in this flick. But what of the humans, you ask? Armie Hammer is serviceable as the title character but he just doesn’t register like he did in films like The Social Network. Johnny Depp is doing Johnny Depp doing Jack Sparrow doing a Native American, which is to say he takes the role seriously but you never forget that you are watching Johnny Depp with a bird on his head. In terms of supporting characters, Ruth Wilson and Barry Pepper are both fine but wasted and even though he was over the top, I enjoyed William Fitchner as the cannibalistic Butch Cavendish.
Gore Verbinski certainly has an affinity for blockbuster fare and you can see why he was drawn to this story. The action scenes are shot confidently but outside of the first train sequence, none of the subsequent action scenes, and there are a lot, manage to capture the whimsy the film thinks it does. The movie also finds a difficult time balancing it’s many tones. For example, there are many instances where Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger cheats death but after a while it got annoying. We can only watch people cheat death so much in a film where you show wide-spread slaughter of Native Americans and action better suited for a time period other than 1860.
I’ve often mentioned how scripts self sabotage themselves and this film is no exception. The framing device is just a mess in that it constantly takes us out of the flow of the story. It’s a shame because it really robs the film of some momentum that could have been used to explore the interesting relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. Most problematic however, is how the film can’t decide on a stance regarding it’s intentions of exploring Native American conflicts with the western expansion. There’s nothing wrong with trying to have some social commentary in a film like this but you can’t pretend to make it a main theme only to push it the side and then bring it back in full view, only to not finalize the statement. This film plays like “Why Native Americans Shouldn’t Have Trust White People 101” but never does anything with it, just content to showcase the problems and terrible treatment they got without taking a moral stand or offering an efficient conclusion. I was disgusted at how ineffective they were at crafting a substantial plot for this, given how much screen time it got. This lack of introspection really runs afoul of the relationship they try to build with Tonto and the Lone Ranger, and puts the future of those characters in jeopardy.
It’s unfortunate that this film couldn’t be more because the elements are there for a good movie. But you can only do the most with the least for a short while before the whole product is ruined, and The Lone Ranger doesn’t manage to hold up.