13 August 2013

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger


The Lone Ranger
2013, 149mins, 12
Director: Gore Verbinski 
Writer (s): Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott 
Cast includes: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper 
UK Release Date: 9th August 2013

Opening last month in the States to dismal critical notices and egregious business receipts, “The Lone Ranger” is the latest live action mega-flop from the House of Mouse. Bringing the masterminds of “The Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise back together (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp) must’ve been impossible to pass upon on paper, but in practise somebody should have known better. Taking a pop cultural icon well past its sell by date (the Lone Ranger first debuted on the airwaves in 1933) and meshing it with ludicrously overzealous budgeting proved a faux pas for Disney just over a year ago with “John Carter”, “The Lone Ranger” maintaining the studio’s newfound dumb touch with retro material. It doesn’t much help matters that for the first 90 minutes the picture has to contest with sloppy screenwriting and a cruddy Johnny Depp performance, smothering Gore Verbinski’s attempts to whip up something resembling stylish summer fun. The director eventually succeeds with a knock-out climax but it’s hardly enough to resuscitate the movie’s prior sins. I don’t doubt there was a solid actioner to be made here (and Armie Hammer is more than capable of heading such a triumph up), but unfortunately this incarnation of “The Lone Ranger” plays like a dud.

Returning from the City as a qualified man of the Courts, John Reid (Armie Hammer) arrives back in his hometown of Colby to find the population and his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) hunting outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Whilst on the murderer’s trail, Dan, John and a variety of other locals are ambushed by Cavendish, all left for dead. With the help of a mysterious Indian named Tonto (Johnny Depp) John is revived and informed he has spiritual powers that enable him to combat evil, making him the ultimate weapon of justice across the old West. Donning a mask and with Tonto at his side, John begins to hunt Cavendish and his men, uncovering a plot that moves beyond Cavendish’s villainy, and winds a disturbing path back to Colby’s burgeoning railway industry.

The screenplay is credited to Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott a pair of scribes known for box-office bullion but erratic artistic fulfillment. On the plus side they've penned winners like the initial “Pirates of the Caribbean” foray, but their more recent output has amounted to weak sequels in said franchise and forgettable 2009 family caper “G-Force”.  “The Lone Ranger” continues the pairs’ downward trajectory; much of what’s wrong with the picture firmly down to their clumsy contribution. The film begins with a shonky book-ending mechanic that takes us to San Francisco in 1933, where a genuinely cringe-inducing Johnny Depp recants the central story to a child at an amusement park. Things don’t get much better moving into the central story, Rossio and Elliott concocting an entirely predictable narrative (seriously, if you haven’t guessed the real baddie by the end of act one, you’re not trying hard enough), without giving the hero much to work with. Hammer is heroically awkward and pretty perfect for the role, but his character arc boils down to a shallow and poorly detailed conflict between honourable justice and bloody revenge, meaning that only in the heat of Verbinski’s action beats does he stand much chance of impressing. As was the case with the “Pirates” follow-ups, “The Lone Ranger” is overly dense in superfluous support and bloated beyond reason, the second act trundling along at an achingly dull clip. There’s very little evolution in either situation or individual during “The Lone Ranger”, meaning the stakes stay low until the admittedly excellent finale, but by then it’s too late. The hodgepodge of misjudged indulgences that characterise the piece are too numerous to fully overcome, leaving the vehicle as a myriad of poor writing choices.

Depp is dreadful as Tonto, slinking around the film spurting off vaguely racist and almost incomprehensible mantras, clearly more interested in the potential of the wardrobe department than anything else. Cloaked in make-up, it’s a chore to watch the actor parade around the picture, failing to formulate chemistry with the superior Hammer or even avoid the caricature tics that have started to dent his knowingly absurd legacy. Better is Fichtner, who at least commits to proceedings as more a team player, snarling convincingly behind layers of grubby make-up and doing a respectable job of communicating the minute nuances which tend to define scenery-chewing baddies of his sort. There’s fun to be had with the man, which is more can be said for the rest of the thespian platter, Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper and Ruth Wilson abandoned by a script with no more interest in them than storytelling innovation.

Verbinski is an intriguing presence behind the camera, infusing the picture with surreal quirks and a refined visual palette that suggests a genuine aura of atmosphere and heat. The denouement is also utterly spectacular, deploying an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach and pulling it off wonderfully. The homage laden score by Hans Zimmer and Verbinski’s unstoppable energy give the locomotive climax a major kick, Hammer also receiving the hero moments his earlier work so warrants. It’s a rousing and totally enjoyable way to cap off “The Lone Ranger”, and ultimately a far better end point than the movie deserves. Until the train starts chugging the film just sits there prettily, twitching as its overstuffed contents slosh blandly over an indifferent audience. Then it clicks, forcing patrons to grip the side of their seats and gasp at the FX bombast, but alas, it’s too little too late. “The Lone Ranger” concludes like a pro, but conducts itself like an amateur in nearly all other senses.

The saddest thing to note about the film’s failure is that it puts significant strain on Hammer’s future as a leading man, it’ll take a sizable hit and probably some luck to sidestep a turkey of this magnitude early in his burgeoning career. He’s a poster-boy with charm, panache and believable physicality, an actor who warrants another chance to crack the hills of Hollywood and land a gig more befitting of his abilities. Everybody else involved will probably be fine. They’ve had successes in the past too numerous to mention. But it’s Hammer who steals the show and convinces, so if there’s any justice in this world, he too will be granted career life-support. As “The Lone Ranger” he’s quite the joy. It’s just a pity about the uneven fracas around him.  

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013


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