I’ve been against this new Lone Ranger movie since it was announced Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. You can read my initial reaction, and my personal take on the character HERE.
I had no intention of seeing this thing, but about a month ago, I accidentally committed what’s pretty much a hanging offense in terms of movie appreciation: I spoiled the ending of a movie (STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS) to a friend who had been looking forward to the thing all year, the very day before he was headed to the theater. It was an honest mistake (I thought he had seen it early, he sees a lot of movies early, and that we were talking about WRATH OF KHAN), but yeah, I felt pretty terrible, particularly as it was a movie I had no intention of seeing (I had read the synopsis). I told him I owed him, that he could name any fitting recompense. Knowing full well my resistance to the thing on a moral basis, he told me I had to go see THE LONE RANGER and talk about it with him on his podcast.
So I went into this thing with my arms firmly crossed, and I saw it in a theater I hate (because it was cheaper and closer).
But you know, I came away appreciating it. It touched the greatness of the original material at times, and everybody did a fine job. I was a fan of the movie REMO WILLIAMS as a kid, and having seen it on a crummy, blurry VHS tape with tracking lines galore, I didn’t figure out the Korean character Chiun was played by Joel Gray, a white guy, until maybe seven years ago. I still think he did a pretty bang up job, and Depp plays Tonto well and fine here. I still wonder about his Native ancestry and maintain somebody like Adam Beach or an unknown Native actor would’ve been more ideal in the part, but whatever. For the purposes of this piece, I’m gonna refer you to my previous blog post and ignore all that. For now, this’ll take its place alongside REMO WILLIAMS and GUNGA DIN, in terms of white characters in makeup that I grudgingly accept due to my enjoyment of the material.
It’s LOADED with inaccuracies, as I’ve read in criticisms all over the place. It’s 1869, but there’s cartridge ammunition flying all over the place (most guns were cap and ball black powder till the mid 1870’s), and the Texas Rangers go thundering past the distinctive mesas of Monument Valley, wayyy out of their jurisdiction. The Comanches range far out of their usual stomping grounds as well (and Tonto was a Pottawatomie anyway).
But consider this. Verbinski and company aren’t dummies. They displayed a love for pirate movies in the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, referencing everything from THE CRIMSON PIRATE to CAPTAIN BLOOD. The same thing happens here. THE LONE RANGER is full of homages to classic westerns. Tonto’s elderly makeup reminded me a lot of LITTLE BIG MAN from the get-go, and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is referenced a few times, in the train sequences, and in the musical cues throughout.
Maybe I’m giving the production team a little too much credit, but is it possible these glaring inaccuracies were intentional? John Ford regularly told us Monument Valley was in Texas, and Leone had Tuco, Angel Eyes, and Blondie loading their revolvers with cartridge ammo in the midst of the Civil War. Heck, maybe even Johnny Depp as Tonto is a reference to all the white guys in redface that permeated THE SEARCHERS, WINCHESTER 73, and numerous other classic outings.
And let me say, the ubiquitous William Fichtner, whose face I was amazed to see when I looked the actor up after the movie, as you see this guy in solid supporting roles everywhere, played the HELL out of villain Butch Cavendish. There’s a scene where he escapes from a prison train. The doors to the car open behind him to show his gang racing along side the train, and he steps out onto the saddle. For an instant he has this fantastically exultant grin, that was a spectacular choice. Wish I had a freeze frame of it, because he’s got this sense of rogueish evil relish that really made me dig the portrayal.
My biggest criticism about the movie is that Armie Hammer isn’t really allowed to BE the Ranger as we know him until the last twenty minutes. Up until then he’s as bumbling as his cinematic grand nephew Seth Rogen (as Britt Reid in THE GREEN HORNET – interestingly, Tom Wilkinson, who plays the rail baron in THE LONE RANGER, played James Reid in THE GREEN HORNET). Is there some PC fear on the part of Disney to let the Ranger surpass Tonto? I don’t know. What I do know is this movie’s getting the John Carter treatment. Like that movie, it’s much better than people are being led to believe, and it doesn’t deserve to bomb the way something crummy as say, THE WATCH, does. It’s not perfect. But it’s escapist western adventure. A fine fantasy.
But those last twenty minutes are sublime. Yes it’s completely unbelievable to have Silver racing along the top of a speeding train (or IN it), but when Hammer is trading shots with Barry Pepper (on ANOTHER train) and the William Tell Overture is blaring….
Go see him before he rides off into the sunset for another twenty years.