You didn’t think Gore Verbinski would play it completely straight with his vision of The Lone Ranger, did you?
If the answer is “no” you were right. Verbinski has always been smarter than that. We’re talking about a guy who took a mediocre Disney theme park attraction and turned it into a multi-billion dollar film franchise after all.
Will The Lone Ranger enjoy the same fate? Audiences will dictate that. In the meantime, Verbinski will have to settle for one of the better TV-to-film adaptations to grace the big screen.
The Lone Ranger is flat out smart, delivering a message wrapped in a western that keeps the audience mostly engaged despite a seemingly interminable runtime.
Tonto (Johnny Depp) takes center stage as the story is told from his perspective for reasons that are obvious because as much as this is an origin story, it’s as much a statement on cultural imperialism, bigotry and Native American genocide. It also takes a swipe military industrial complex in a way that’s intelligent and thought provoking.
Just as the action picks up and we begin to learn who the characters are, Verbinski, who directs from a screenplay by Justin Haythe and Pirates of the Caribbean collaborators Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, drops the mini bomb that this isn’t the Lone Ranger of Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.
Tonto’s just freed from a crashed train when the head of the Texas Rangers, Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), asks why he was in shackles.
He replies succinctly: “Indian.” With Depp’s delivery it works comedically and ironically. Tonto’s in chains for RWI (Riding While Indian). There are many such moments as Verbinski deals with the slaughter of America’s indigenous people and other than losing graphic violence he spares little.
But it’s those comedic moments along with spectacular action and stunts that save Ranger from Verbinski’s over indulgence with respect to time.
From the moment Tonto and John Reid (Armie Hammer) meet on that ill-fated train, there’s plenty of comedic gold for them to mine and they take advantage of it.
And that happens as John is arriving back in his small Texas hometown to serve as county prosecutor to his brother Dan’s Texas Ranger. Butch Cavendish (an unrecognizable William Fichtner), a vicious outlaw (shock!) was imprisoned and on his way to be hung, but his gang springs him throwing things into chaos.
Eventually he kills Dan and his fellow Rangers, thinking in the process that he killed John as well.
Instead Tonto discovers him alive nurses him back to help and begins to mold him into a heroic outlaw, who reluctantly fights to bring his brother’s killer to justice.
Depp, despite the mild blowback from him not being Native American, once again inhabits a role, turning Tonto blending comedic and somber overtones to create a memorable version of this classic character. This time around it’s his movie.
Make little mistake, however. Hammer’s no slouch. Not even close. He’s impressed with prior roles in The Social Network and J. Edgar. Despite playing second fiddle to start, he grows into the role of leading man and shows a man awakening to the reality of the world around him. Without a doubt, he impresses.
There is much to like about The Lone Ranger and Verbinski does the movie credit by taking it a couple of notches above summer movie fare. A nip here and a tuck there with respect to runtime and this would have been the perfect summer film. In this case, however, you can’t quibble with a film that pays homage to the past while opening it up to the future.
Movie: The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Rated: PG-13 (for sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material.)
Running time: 149 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com