What a mess.
There’s a good movie somewhere buried in the two hours and 30 minutes it takes to reach the end credits of “The Lone Ranger.” It’s practically begging to be exhumed. It’s just a shame that Gore Verbinski, once again, can’t seem to reign himself in and not use every bit of footage he films and instead of a lean, tightly wound action Western, we get a bloated, tonally confused film that occasionally gives the sort of spectacle Verbinski seems uniquely suited to deliver.
There are a lot of problems with “The Lone Ranger,” it’s difficult to know where to begin. So let’s start with what works.
The opening and closing. Everything leading up to John Reid (Armie Hammer) becoming “that masked man,” in which a posse of Texas Rangers goes in pursuit of notorious outlaw, Butch Cavendish (a nigh unrecognizable William Fichtner). This opening 15 minutes or so is rife with the sort of things that make westerns great: Sweeping vistas (filmed in Monument Valley, of course), train heists, shootouts, chases on horseback and clearly defined good guys and bad guys. It feels like classic stuff.
The same goes for the climactic action scene in the film’s final 20 minutes. There are two trains this time, (to the point where it feels like Verbinski is sneakily doing an adaptation of another Disneyland ride, “Thunder Mountain”) but with even more shootout mayhem, train-hopping and the Lone Ranger being terribly heroic and confident and essentially everything you’d expect the character to be. It’s exciting stuff, and Verbinski continues to showcase just how great he is at presenting wildly creative action sequences.
What sinks the movie is everything in between.
I don’t know who thought dragging a “Lone Ranger” movie on for nearly three hours was a good idea, but I’m pretty sure they should never work in movies again. Part of the appeal of the character is the simplicity of him. He’s the ultimate, pristine good guy. The epitome of “White Hat Justice.” He simply chooses to do the right thing and doesn’t really need a lengthy origin story about how he got that white hat or why he rides outside the law, he simply does.
So of course this means the writers go the opposite route and pad out what should be a brisk, efficient story into something that feels more and more bloated as the minutes tick on. Oh, you want there to be a plot to essentially buy control of the country’s largest railroad via crooked business practices and playing the Army against the Comanche tribe? That’s fine. It shouldn’t take two hours to tell that story, though. This is why scenes seem to stretch on far longer than they should or why by the midpoint of the film the story just seems to wander.
Apparently there were major script revisions done before filming commenced, and it’s not difficult to tell. Supposedly at one point the Ranger and Tonto were to face off against werewolves. (No, really.) Elements of this are still quite visible and it would explain why the movie often feels of two separate minds.
It would also explain why the script feels so tonally out of whack. The film goes from moments of stark violence to jarringly odd humor so quickly you’re likely to get whiplash. Why does John Reid need to be presented as a screaming doofus? Do we really need shots of a horse getting drunk and/or sitting in a tree wearing a hat? And speaking of whiplash, perhaps the most abrupt transition is when Reid goes from bumbling and inept pre-climax to being borderline superhuman during the climax.
Mostly I just feel bad for Armie Hammer. The guy has leading man potential in spades, I think, he just can’t seem to find the right project that can help him break out. This, sadly, will likely not be that film. He does precisely what the script asks of him, it just doesn’t do him many favors until the film’s climax. Hopefully that’s what ends up sticking with audiences.
Also, I will be eternally grateful once Johnny Depp at last transitions from his current “cake on makeup and act weird” career stage. Capt. Jack Sparrow was something of a revelation at the time, but the character’s popularity seems to have put Depp on autopilot for the last decade-plus. Remember when Depp used to play interesting, intense characters that weren’t “safe”? I do, but just barely. Those days seem like they came from a different actor. In some ways, that’s probably true.
What’s perhaps most frustrating about “The Lone Ranger” is that I know Verbinski has it in him to make a great, classic western. He already showed his love and understanding of and propensity for that material when and Depp made the sorely underrated “Rango.” That film flows on its own weird vibe, but it has such a strong sense of what makes the genre work that I wonder what happened between now and then.
I wanted to like this. I miss the genre something fierce and it will take something like a Johnny Depp-starring smash hit from a director like Verbinski to help jumpstart the western again. Too bad this isn’t that film.
It’s difficult to remember a time when Johnny Depp wasn’t a big box office star, but the first two-thirds of his career were more or less the opposite of what it is now. This also meant he took more risks as an actor. Here are a couple of those performances that showcase Depp at his best.
“Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas”: Depp’s turn as Raoul Duke (who’s really just an alias for the late, great gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson) might be his best performance. It’s quirky and yet also wholly engrossing and not without its share of depth and nuance. There’s a sadness, ultimately, to his narration that layers the performance. It’s my favorite of his, at the very least.
“Ed Wood”: This is the other performance that competes for the title of “Depp’s Best,” though it’s also arguably director Tim Burton’s best film as well. Chronicling the career of notorious “B” filmmaker Ed Wood, Depp’s performance as Wood is marvelously understated, something you can’t really say about the majority of his roles. Sadly, this one goes overlooked far too often.