Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger

If you took the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, exchanged the ocean for the desert, swapped ships for railroads, and put cowboys and Indians wardrobe on the pirates and British naval men, then what you would be left with is Disney’s The Lone Ranger.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise as The Lone Ranger reunites director Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, the duo that served as the driving force behind Disney’s original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.  What is a bit a surprise though is how this film sorely lacks fun, the one quality that was the indisputable defining trait of the Pirates franchise; and one of the main reasons for its box office success.

The plot of The Lone Ranger places John Reid (Armie Hammer) in the cross hairs of a battle between his Texas Ranger brother Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) and the outlaw Butch Cavendish.  When Dan Reid and his band of rangers are ambushed and left for dead, John takes up the mantle as the Lone Ranger and forms an uneasy alliance with Tonto (Johnny Depp); his goal to exact revenge upon Cavendish and to prevent war between the native Americans and the armed forces protecting the transcontinental railroad.

As the synopsis suggests, there is a lot going on in this movie and thus no shortage of elements in play to create entertainment value.  And it only takes a few frames to be reminded that Gore Verbinski knows how to frame a good shot.  So how then does this film fail to capture the imagination and breath life into the American icon? 

For starters, it’s just not that fun.  The tongue-in-cheek witty banter that no doubt dotted each page of the script really falls flat when brought to screen.  More often than not, the dialogue between characters plays like a bad set at the local improv and without those laughs to lighten up the narrative, the fun factor of this film erodes exponentially.  This brings the focus of the film solely onto the gravitas and action-oriented elements of the plot, leading directly into the second issue with this film.

No action film can succeed without a strong actor cast in the role of the hero and unfortunately, that responsibility falls upon the all-too-narrow shoulders of Armie Hammer.  Having seen Hammer in The Social Network, J. Edgar, Mirror Mirror, and now The Lone Ranger, I am convinced that he is best suited to play those over-privileged male characters who give off a more metrosexual vibe.  Because of this, he falters as the man behind the mask when the situations grow dire and the physicality escalates.  If Hammer has greater range or another gear as an actor, he does not display it and thus the film suffers greatly.

The third issue with this film is its length, which feels a good thirty some odd minutes too long.  Like Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, The Lone Ranger is loaded with a bevy of key characters – each with their own respective agendas, and about ten too many twists and turns.  Thus, as Verbinski plays these threads out to their ultimate conclusions with unbridled abandon, the central focus of the film gets lost and the general sense of tension and drama associated with the plot gets tossed out the window.  The bloated running time coupled with the lack of weighted gravitas and plucky comic relief makes the film’s pace feel plodding at best.

As for the biggest name in the cast, Johnny Depp, he turns in an uneven performance that is more good than bad.  Eccentric, awkward, and borderline incoherent, Depp’s Tonto is one of the few characters that stands out against the bland background of the unsettled west.  Sure, Depp makes some odd choices (even by his standards) and at times it feels like he is playing an alternate universe version of Jack Sparrow, but clearly he is invested and committed to the roll and that makes his work stand out; especially so since some of his cast mates seemed barley to register a heartbeat in this film.

Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Barry Pepper are four such culprits.  Normally, supporting players sleepwalking through their perofrmances might not drastically diminish the entertainment value of a movie, but when two of those actors represent the female love interest and the chief antagonist, then almost nothing can be done to rescucitate the production.  Still, the supporting cast is not a complete miss as James Badge Dale and William Fichter (Butch Cavendish) do a fantastic job disappearing completely into their respective roles and delivering their lines with conviction.  Ultimately though, it’s mostly for naught as too many things go awry in this film to appreciate any kind of silver lining.

On paper, The Lone Ranger looks like a solid summer flick given the composition of the cast and the presence of a proven director in the big chair.  Still, the movie feels like just another action movie – a very expensive one ($225M) that was made just for the sake of getting made.  Little is demanded from films of this ilk – well-framed action, excitement, and a sense of joy, so when a film misses on two of the three tennets, it can only be viewed as a colossal disappointment.  I would definitely not recommend you watch this movie in the cinema as it is worth neither the time nor money.  Your best bet is to put this in the take-it-or-leave-it bucket and let the chips fall where they may.  Should the film ultimately find its way into your hands then give it a look, a nd if it never does, then life will just go on and you’re life will in no way be adversely affected.

Standout Performance:  James Badge Dale.  In limited screen time, Dale manages to display great depth with his character in ways other than straight narration.


  1. Very accurate review. This 2 1/2 hour movie felt like 3 1/2 hours. James Badge Dale and William Fichtner were great.