The Lone Ranger

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"You can't help feeling British audiences may well embrace the film's oddness - and blatant anti-American stance - which while not always successfully executed, means there is rarely a dull moment."

The Lone Ranger rides into Britain with the blast of US critical hatred and weaker-than-expected box office burning at his silver spurs. Disney plunged somewhere between £140 million and £160 million into Gore Verbinski's reimagining of the masked lawmaker and his Comanche side-kick and is now expected to lose around £100 million on the deal. However, British audiences may well embrace the film's oddness - and blatant anti-American stance - which while not always successfully executed, means there is rarely a dull moment.

The dullest of them, however, come in a framing device that will make anyone of a certain age recall Dustin Hoffman's Little Big Man. It's 1933, and somewhere in San Francisco, a boy in Lone Ranger fancy dress is wandering through a Wild West exhibit at a fairground. Among the bears and buffalo is the waxwork of a Native American - who turns out to be Johnny Depp under a hundredweight of make-up. Tonto - for it is he - insists the boy should never remove his mask and then slips into a reverie of recollection of his partnership with the real deal.


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Whisking the action back to 1869, Tonto is shackled on a train next to Butch Cavendish, quickly established as one of baddest bandits in the West. Cavendish (William Fichtner) is every inch the pulp western villain, with his twisted lip, greed and hatred of others, although his penchant for cannibalism is certainly a new one for the wild frontier. Tonto, meanwhile, comes with the usual overload of quirks from Depp - chief among them his constant feeding of the dead bird on his head, which is never as funny as it is intended to be and yet lends his character an agreeable peculiarity. Further back on the same train is lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer), a straight as a die sort with a mile-wide streak of naivety, who believes in justice and the American way. He is heading home to see his lawman brother Dan (James Badge Dale, impressive in a small role) and sister-in-law/secret love Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). A train ambush later and the pair are flung together, only for Reid to ensure Tonto is put behind bars. Their paths soon cross again, however, when John and Dan join a posse to ride out into Texas Comanche Country (Utah's Monument Valley pulling its usual stint as the masked hero of scenery).

Despite the fact that they are far from willing partners, their shared goal of meting out justice to Cavendish draws Reid and Tonto together and as they muddle on with their uneasy pact, they find themselves tackling - in an episodic nod to the original serials - a villainous railroad tycoon (Tom Wilkinson), imminent war with the Comanche and a secret silver mine.

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Certainly the film's tone is all over the place. One minute we're watching the most basic U-rated horse dung gag, the next we're being treated to a poignant massacre, the next we find ourselves in a moment of Wild West romance - and that's before we even get to the sub-Mrs Slocombe cat gag, Helena Bonham-Carter's brothel madam and the Pythonesque killer bunny rabbits. The framing moments with elderly Tonto never really work either, dragging you out of the action at the worst possible moments. The intention, presumably, was to say something about the nature of time and progress - pocket watches, both broken and fixed are also dotted through the narrative - or possibly to make us question the idea of facts and myth. Whatever the aim, it feels largely redundant.

Despite its flaws, the script is searing in its skewering of the American takeover of the West, finding something to say in the unlikeliest of moments about the evil that men did. The film also looks beautiful, courtesy of cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, all John Ford vistas and Sergio Leone stylings - references also echoed in Hans Zimmerman's knowing score. Among the films called to mind are the Indiana Jones franchise, Back To The Future III and most of Buster Keaton's back catalogue, while you can't help feeling that if this film had been made 10 years ago, Brendan Fraser would have been in the lead role. Fraser would probably have been better, actually, as Hammer never really loosens up enough for his relationship with Depp to bed in.

The runtime is outrageous at two and a half hours - and likely to be the biggest sticking point when it comes to taking children to see it, they will surely be bored as the film sags between action set pieces. It makes you long for a shorter non-director's cut.

Yet those who go the distance are finally rewarded at around the two-hour mark when, as the swelling - and surprisingly emotional - William Tell Overture finally kicks in, we're treated to 20 or so minutes of blisteringly good train jumping, horse riding, gun-toting action. With a sequel unlikely after its box office collapse, this Lone Ranger may prove a one-off in more ways than one, but its sheer spirited strangeness and non-conformity is, in some ways, to be celebrated.

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2013
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The masked hero and his sidekick ride again.
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Director: Gore Verbinski

Writer: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Justin Haythe

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Cook, JD Cullum, Saginaw Grant, Harry Treadaway, James Frain, Joaquín Cosio

Year: 2013

Runtime: 149 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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