Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2013

The Lone Ranger

Run away, run away

I'd say 'The Lone Ranger' is a trainwreck, but the trainwreck is actually the best part

The Lone Ranger
Walt Disney Studios
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on characters created by Fran Striker and George W. Trendle
Starring: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 29 minutes
July 3, 2013
(out of four)

Tone is everything. It is the essence of how a movie expresses itself - how it behaves, how it feels, what it really is. In fact, the tone can tell you whether or not a film even knows what it is. Many don't, but every good one does.

The Lone Ranger is a film of many tones, which is to say it is a film of none. Sure, it's possible to juggle different moods and styles in one movie, but it's a delicate balancing act, and a tricky one to pull off. As it happens, director Gore Verbinkski did exactly that the last time he took on a Western - 2011's magnificent Rango - but he's unable to do so this time around.

I'm not sure if it's the massive scope of the project that gets in the way, or simply an inability to nail down exactly what he was going for. My guess would be the latter. The film seems to be trying on different looks from scene to scene, never settling on one, and finally just deciding to combine them all into one rancid ensemble of mismatched parts. One moment it's attempting to be an earnest Western drama, the next moment it's a jokey buddy comedy. One moment it's trying to be a poignant re-examination of American history, the next it's a live-action cartoon. Ironic one minute, self-serious the next.

And the thing is, it doesn't even do most of those things especially well. As a Western, it's straight off the assembly line, lacking any of the flair Verbinski found among the lizards and raccoons in the moribund town of Dirt just two years ago. (He does seem to be recycling certain ideas from Rango - American capitalism in the age of Western expansion, the crooked tycoon, the colorful outlaw villain - but without the same style or humor.)

As a buddy comedy, it never settles on the dynamic between Armie Hammer's John Reid and Johnny Depp's Tonto. There's no real animosity between them, nor any real affection. They whine and complain about each other, but not with any real conviction. They're a mismatched pair, but their differences are never really brought out; the script is too busy finding craaaaazy situations for them to get stuck in and subsequently escape.

And as for the historical angle? Let me paint you a picture: The Lone Ranger employs a framing device involving an old, wrinkled Tonto (circa 1933) hiding out in a San Francisco carnival attraction focusing on the Old West - complete with a painted cloth backdrop of Monument Valley - and recounting his story to a young boy dressed up in cowboy garb. You can see what the movie's going for - a commentary on the way history is written, how legends are passed on - but in execution it is a disaster, and comes across as little more than an excuse to get Johnny Depp some extra screen time to ham it up.

That seems to be the film's - or more accurately, the studio's - modus operandi. Get Depp on screen as much as possible, even if it means cutting away to arbitrary reaction shots of Tonto making a funny face. To the screenplay's credit, it actually functions as a dual character piece for both Reid and Tonto, rather than one merely playing sidekick for the other. Both characters have their own distinctive journeys to play out. But paired together, the duo never comes together. There's no chemistry, nor any real substance to their time on screen together beyond a lot of petty fighting.

For most of the film's 149 minutes, the inspiration comes only in snippets. But then. Oh but then. Verbinski caps his elongated epic with a runaway train setpiece that would have made for a spectacular climax if only the movie itself had been any good. He has always been a remarkably imaginative director, even if he hasn't exactly mastered self-discipline. (The third Pirates movie, anyone?) Here in this climactic sequence, after two hours of pretty much running in place, he finally puts his vivid imagination to use. It's almost as if he put all his focus and passion into his finale, but just slapped together the rest of the movie as an afterthought.

The sequence is an ingenious bit of action filmmaking, blending Looney Tunes choreography with Buster Keaton-inspired compositions and Rube Goldberg mechanics. The problem is, it comes long past the point of caring - and past a couple of other would-be endings that were already testing our patience. But lop off the preceding two hours and the last five minutes and you have yourself a magnificent 20-minute short film.

But ultimately that's all The Lone Ranger leaves us with - 20 minutes' worth of great material stretched out into a bloated, mostly unfunny, nonsensical would-be epic.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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