Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp in "The Lone Ranger."
The Lone Ranger
Inevitably, Disney's new-millennial "The Lone Ranger" is a mass of contradictions, just like the country it's about.
But it's hard to shake the feeling that director Gore Verbinski and executive producer Johnny Depp are getting away with something. Again.
Like their collaborations on "Rango" and (albeit to a far lesser extent) the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, "The Lone Ranger" flaunts eccentricity and edge not commonly found in big-budget studio movies. Verbinski, Depp and screenwriters Justin Haythe and Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio draw on a wide range of influences to create an action blockbuster that's as disturbing and melancholy as it is fanciful and fun.
With a pointed framing device, the movie initiates its own conversation of making a postmodern Western. In 1933 San Francisco, before the backdrop of a half-constructed Golden Gate Bridge and an escaping red balloon of innocence, a little boy (Mason Elston Cook) walks into a Wild West exhibition and up to a display labeled "The Noble Savage in His Natural Habitat." The image before him is no wax dummy. In a bit of magical absurdism (by way of "Little Big Man"), it's a 100-yearold Tonto (Johnny Depp), who tells his story to a confused child who is the audience's surrogate.
In 1869 Texas, an action sequence shackles (à la "The Defiant Ones")
Tonto to John Reid (Armie Hammer, well cast). He's the man who will
become The Lone Ranger but not before we see him reading John
Locke's "The Treatises of Government" and averring, "This here's my
Bible." Reid's arc will be one of disillusionment, passing through greed and corruption to arrive at the conclusion "If men like him represent the law, I'd rather be an outlaw."
This pop-culture reboot an example of Hollywood's current default
position operates in large part as a deconstruction of its source material, including the Lone Ranger's historical trust in government, and Tonto's nickname for him, "Kemo Sabe." What used to mean "trusty
scout" now means "wrong brother," a gag that punnily evolves in meaning from distrust to "brother from another mother"-hood. In sun-cracked white face paint and with a dead crow perched atop his head, this Tonto is both a typically oddball Depp creation, and an embodiment of the sane insanity of the unfathomably victimized: If he's a fool, he's a holy fool.
Plenty is wrong with Verbinski's movie, which goes on far too long while still shunting women to the margins. Depp's talent aside and the actor's unverified claims of Native American heritage to the contrary, I wouldn't blame anyone for taking offense at what might be called "redface."
But the ethical ironies don't quite seem lost on the filmmakers. Along
with the shovelfuls of sugar that are some pretty spectacular action
sequences, this "Lone Ranger" prompts "The Cosplay Kid" of the
Comic-Con era of cinema to swallow the sins of our forefathers and
the ones we countenance today.
Rated PG-13 for action, violence and suggestive material. Two hours, 29 minutes.
- Peter Canavese