CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE LONE RANGER (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: The Interior of a steam locomotive. The year is 1896. In the saloon car, L.L. SOARES sits back in his seat and lights a cigar, as MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives and sits down across from him)
MA: Ahh, we finally have the chance to travel in comfort. This is pretty sweet.
LS: And I’ve already ordered our drinks.
(Waiter brings a tray over to their table and puts a glass of whiskey down before LS, and a pint of ale in front of MA)
WAITER: Will there be anything else?
LS: I think we’re fine for now.
MA: Can we have some pretzels?
WAITER: Certainly. (leaves)
MA: You picked a nice place for us to review THE LONE RANGER. Usually when you start things off, we end up on the roof of a tall building or in the middle of a gang war. Nice to be able to relax for a change.
LS: Drink up, my friend. I’ll even begin the review for you.
MA: Please do.
LS: As you said, this week’s movie is THE LONE RANGER, based on characters who go all the way back pre-television radio serials. Although Michael and I are more familiar with the popular TV series starring Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as his sidekick, Tonto. We saw the show in reruns when we were kids, and while I didn’t exactly love it, I remember it being enjoyable enough.
This new movie version of the story features Armie Hammer as the titular ranger and Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto. I think it’s safe to say that the new movie takes a lot of liberties with the concept.
MA: Yeah, it’s a “little” different from the old TV show.
(WAITER returns with a basket of pretzels)
MA: (looks at LS) That’s it? Pretzels?
LS: Whatever do you mean, my good man. You asked for pretzels.
MA: No surprise ambush of bad guys? No tribe of angry Indians? Usually when you start these things, I’m in for some kind of shish-kebobbing.
LS: Nothing of the kind.
WAITER: Will there be anything else?
LS: Not for the moment.
Basically, THE LONE RANGER is an origin story, as we meet John Reid (Armie Hammer, who played both of the Winklevoss twins in the movie THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010) in 1869. He has just come back after going to law school in the East. He’s returned to Colby, Texas to be the town’s new District Attorney. His first case is going to be the trial of outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner, who played Alex Mahone in the Fox TV series, PRISON BREAK). Reid’s brother, Dan (James Badge Dale, who also had roles in this year’s IRON MAN 3 and WORLD WAR Z) is the town’s sheriff, and is known for being pretty heroic. The make things more complicated, Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) has strong feelings for John and it seems like she married the wrong brother.
Anyway, the train bringing Cavendish to town is hijacked by Butch’s gang of outlaws, and he escapes the law. John is on the same train, and barely escapes with his life. John also meets a Native American prisoner named Tonto (Johnny Depp), whose face is painted chalky white like death, and who wears a hat made out of a dead crow. Who is this guy? And why is he also captive in the same train car as Cavendish? It’s never really clear why he’s chained up beside the outlaw in the first place.
MA: And that’s a problem—one of many—that this movie has. There are a bunch of things that are never clearly explained.
LS: In a really good movie, I don’t feel the need to have everything explained to me. The problem is, this is not a really good movie.
Anyway, Tonto also gets away after Sheriff Dan and his boys stop the runaway train (which was sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang).
John insists on going along with brother Dan and his men, and Dan deputizes John for the job (even though, John, stupidly, refuses to carry a gun – this is the wild west after all).
MA: I liked the fact that John refused to carry a gun. But this disdain for firearms doesn’t last throughout the whole story, which is too bad. I seem to remember that Lone Ranger fought his battles without guns, but maybe I’m wrong. I think he didn’t shoot to kill, that’s what it was. I think he tries to shoot to kill in this movie, but he’s such a bad shot it doesn’t matter.
Have I said yet that I thought this movie was stupid?
LS: No, but I’ll say it as well. It’s stupid and a waste of time! Now let me get back to my plot summary so we can finish this review and enjoy our train ride.
The good guys track down the outlaws and there’s an ambush, where just about everyone is killed. Tonto arrives on the scene after the outlaws have taken off to bury the bodies, and ends up taking part in the strange resurrection of John Reid when a wild white stallion comes and stands by John’s grave.
MA: Which is another thing that isn’t explained properly, how does Tonto get out of his prison cell and be free to discover John and the bodies of the slain rangers?
LS: I just stopped caring early on. Must have been some sort of magic, I suppose.
Revived from death (it’s never clear if he was every really dead), John seeks revenge on the men who killed his brother, with shaman-like Tonto at his side. Meanwhile, Cavendish and his men have teamed up with a corrupt railroad baron named Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who also has a U.S. Calvary captain, Jay Fuller, in his back pocket (Capt. Fuller seems to be an awful lot like historical figure, General George Custer). So it’s basically Reid and Tonto up against a whole bunch of corrupt individuals.
Oh yeah, and Tonto gets Reid to wear a mask that covers the top part of his face, because the bad guys think he’s dead. I’m not sure why this matters. If people think he’s dead, wouldn’t it be scarier if he didn’t wear the mask? Wasn’t it Batman who said something about striking fear in the hearts of criminals? I guess the Lone Ranger missed that lecture.
This one is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also collaborated with Johnny Depp on the wildly popular PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN films.
I have to admit, I really didn’t find a lot about this movie to like. One of my biggest problems is its length. At 149 minutes, THE LONE RANGER is just about two and a half hours long. And with the exception of the train being sabotaged by Cavendish’s gang early on, the first two hours crawled at a snail’s pace for me. I didn’t care about these characters, and there are long stretches were nothing seems to happen but backstory, and I found myself struggling to stay awake a few times. Hell, let me be honest, I was bored out of my skull for most of the running time! This is pretty odd, considering THE LONE RANGER is a big budget action blockbuster. The key word being ACTION. There didn’t seem to be an awful lot of action for most of the movie. In the last half hour or so, things suddenly get interesting again, and we get treated to some major action and happenings, but it takes us about two hours to get there! What the hell was Verbinski thinking?
You can’t make an action movie where it doesn’t really hit its stride until the last half hour!
MA: True, but I had many more problems with this movie than just its lack of action. I didn’t even like the action sequence at the end, even though parts of it are pretty cool.
LS: There’s also a framing story that involves a young boy, Will (Mason Cook) who is visiting a wild west show in 1930s San Francisco and who comes across a very old Tonto, who seems to be living in one of the exhibits (called “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat”). Tonto then tells the story of the movie as an extended flashback. I normally hate framing devices, and this one didn’t change my mind. I have no clue why so many directors love the idea of having framing scenes at the beginning and end of movies of characters who are telling us the tale in flashback. Just start things off with a bang with the actual movie, for chrissakes!
MA: I hated this framing story. It gets the movie off to such a slow start, which as you said, in terms of pacing, the film never really recovers from, and every time they return to this framing story, all it succeeds in doing is slowing things down even more. They could have cut all these scenes and easily shaved 20 minutes of the running time.
LS: They could have cut a lot more than that.
Things don’t get interesting until two hours into the movie, and by then I had pretty much given up on it as a long, drawn-out, snooze. Armie Hammer has about the same charisma as a mannequin here, which is too bad, because he’s normally not a bad actor.
But, really, there aren’t many characters worth caring about in this movie.
MA: By far, the character of The Lone Ranger was the worst part of this movie for me. It wasn’t so much Hammer’s performance, although I agree with you he has no charisma here and isn’t interesting, but the way writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio constructed the character. He’s pretty much a joke in this movie, and as a fan of the character, this new interpretation left me feeling very disappointed. He’s kind of a bumbling goofball which isn’t the way I remember the character at all. What these folks did to the Lone Ranger reminds me of what Johnny Depp did to Barnabas Collins in last year’s DARK SHADOWS remake.
LS: All I can say is, don’t hold any shows or movies from your childhood too sacred, because someone is going to come along and screw them up for a new audience eventually. It’s only a matter of time.
MA: I liked Hammer at the beginning, and I liked how John Reid was this innocent lawyer who didn’t really understand the workings of the Wild West, but after his brother is murdered, I expected him to change, to have a revelation and come back as an avenging force. But this isn’t what happens. He becomes sillier. It just rubbed me the wrong way.
LS: You would think that Depp took the role of Tonto as some meaningful attempt to tell the true story of Native Americans in the old West, but his performance isn’t that insightful. His Tonto is really little more than comic relief.
MA: I actually didn’t have a problem with Depp’s performance here, and I liked him much better as Tonto than as Barnabas Collins. I thought he was pretty funny throughout THE LONE RANGER. He’s certainly the dominating character in the movie.
But you know what’s wrong with this? The movie isn’t called TONTO. It’s called THE LONE RANGER. The way this entire story is presented in this movie is a real mess. I kept thinking, why make a movie about the Lone Ranger if you really didn’t want to focus on the guy? Because that’s what’s going on here. He’s simply not the main focus of the story, which makes no sense to me. I mean, his friggin brother gets murdered in front of him. He has all the reason in the world to become this really interesting dynamic character, but instead he acts like a buffoon.
LS: I agree.
MA: And even though he is a buffoon he’s not funny. He’s actually the straight man to Depp’s Tonto. Hey, let’s make a LONE RANGER movie and cast Jerry Lewis as Tonto and Dean Martin as The Lone Ranger. Actually, Martin would have made a more interesting Lone Ranger than Armie Hammer, even if he sang a few songs.
LS: I always liked Dean Martin, and he was in some westerns when he was alive. Believe me, he would have been an improvement. But Jerry Lewis as Tonto? Sadly, this isn’t too far from that.
I also found things like a running gag where people keep asking the Lone Ranger “What’s with the mask?” to be pretty useless.
William Fichtner, who is usually pretty good, starts out pretty well as Cavendish, who has a harelip that reveals a silver tooth, and who isn’t adverse to eating human flesh now and again, but it’s not long before he turns into just another one-dimensional bad guy (actually, he’s little more than a henchman for Latham Cole, which is really too bad).
MA: I liked Fichtner well enough, but the problem with his character is, they make him really evil early on— he actually eats a guy’s heart, for crying out loud!— but this is a Disney movie, and so he can’t get progressively more evil as he normally would in a well written movie, which means he gets stuck with nothing to do because if he did anything, it would probably be too horrifying for a Disney flick.
LS: Agreed. They painted themselves in a corner with that one. Cavendish gets less scary as the movie goes on, not more.
Tom Wilkinson is okay as railroad baron Latham Cole, but the problem is we’ve seen this character—or ones just like him—in dozens of movies before, and Cole just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Another corrupt businessman in the early days of the railroad? Haven’t those been done to death by now?
MA (yawns): I’ll say.
LS: Helena Bonham Carter, as a brothel madam named Red, has some inspired moments, with her colorful clothes and a prosthetic leg made out of scrimshaw (and that doubles as a gun!), but she’s not in the movie enough to keep the boredom from setting in for long stretches. The scenes she’s in, though, are improved by her being there.
MA: I agree. Not that I really liked her character, but she was far less boring than most of the other folks in it.
I liked Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid. I thought she was sufficiently sexy and voluptuous. I wish her character had been more important in this movie. It would have been nice to see her do more.
LS: Yes, she’s completely wasted. She might as well have been part of the scenery.
You know…I just really hated this movie!
MA: I started out liking it— once it got past its silly framing story— but as it went on it gradually went downhill for me until, like you, I ended up not liking it at all.
LS: It was overlong, boring, and had characters that did not keep me interested. What little action there is, mostly amounting to a big chase involving locomotives, comes too little too late, and I felt like I was being tortured for most of the movie’s running time.
How can you mess up a mindless action movie? By trying to give it more smarts than it really has, and by dwelling way too long on aspects of the story that just aren’t that interesting. Oh yeah, and forgetting to put enough ACTION into the damn thing.
Depp’s version of Tonto is just another in a long line of eccentric characters, like Captain Jack Sparrow. Between one-liners, mugging for the camera, and pretending to feed bird seed to the dead crow he wears on his head, this Tonto comes off more as a silly jester than an attempt to provide a realistic Native American character from this era. Tonto is humorous enough – not anywhere near as irritating as Depp’s take on Barnabas Collins—but he’s certainly not some great, iconic character here, either.
Armie Hammer plays Reid/the Lone Ranger as a one-dimensional good guy, which might have worked in the 1950s, but who just seems superficial and dull today.
MA: I don’t even think he would have worked in the 1950s, unless he was co-starring with The Three Stooges, maybe.
LS: I give the movie half a knife, for the half hour at the end when THE LONE RANGER finally remembers it’s supposed to be an action film. And for the times—which couldn’t have been more than once or twice—when Tonto elicited a chuckle from me. But overall, I had no use for this movie and considered it a waste of two and a half hours of my life.
What did you think, Michael?
MA: That’s it? What do I think? Where’s the falling chunk of mountain to conk me on the skull? Or maybe the train will suddenly derail and cut me in half.
LS: You’re being paranoid, my friend. There are no surprises planned for you. It’s just two guys sitting around with drinks, discussing a movie.
MA: It’s never just two guys sitting around discussing a movie with us— I don’t get it.
LS: Look, the movie this time was so awful, I figure I’d make the review as painless as possible. Why do we need gags, when the movie itself is a joke?
MA: Well I certainly agree with that. And I can’t say that I’m disappointed. I’d rather finish this review than be sidetracked thinking of ways to get you back.
I didn’t like THE LONE RANGER either. I also didn’t really like the last half hour. I’ll admit, the concluding action sequence at times is pretty impressive, and reminded me of some of the action sequences in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, but you know what really ruined it for me? The music.
The film actually has a decent score by Hans Zimmer, a guy who has an incredible list of credits. He just did the music for MAN OF STEEL (2013), and he wrote the scores for THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, to name just a few.
And his score here for THE LONE RANGER is also very good, but in this concluding sequence, they finally introduce the William Tell Overture, the classic piece of music that used to accompany the old Lone Ranger TV show, and the radio show before that. So, I guess they had to put it in the movie, but man, it seems way out of place. It just makes things so silly. I almost expected the action to switch gears and be shot in fast motion here.
Did I say this movie was silly?
That’s the biggest problem I had with THE LONE RANGER. It’s way too silly. I saw this film over the July 4th holiday with a bunch of family members, and they all loved it, and they told me one reason they liked it was it was so funny, but I tried to explain that there’s a difference between funny and silly. Johnny Depp as Tonto was funny. But the rest of the film was goofy, and to me, it ruined the character of the Lone Ranger.
(LS calls the WAITER over)
LS: We’re almost done with our review here. How about bringing over the special drinks.
WAITER: Of course, sir.
MA: Special drinks?
LS: Do go on.
MA: I liked how this one opened. I liked the ambush scene. I liked how villainous Butch Cavendish cuts out Dan Reid’s heart and eats it. This was some potent stuff. I expected the Lone Ranger to become this really cool character after this, to avenge the death of his brother.
Granted, I wasn’t expecting an R rated action film, but I was expecting a PG-13 rip rousing action adventure that had me cheering, not groaning. Not cringing, or wincing, or otherwise rolling my eyes in disgust.
It’s obvious they were going for a repeat of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN formula. Now, Johnny Depp did his part, creating a rather memorable Tonto, but unlike Captain Jack Sparrow in the PIRATES movies, Tonto is not the main character here. He can’t carry the movie.
And in PIRATES you had Orlando Bloom as a rather serious character who offset and gave balance to Depp’s shenanigans as Jack Sparrow. You don’t have that balance here in THE LONE RANGER. You have Armie Hammer doing his best Zeppo Marx impersonation. Which Marx Brother is Zeppo? Exactly! He’s the one no one remembers!
I liked the ambush scene, I thought Johnny Depp was enjoyable as Tonto, but that’s it. The rest of the film I found to be a foolish goofy mess that I wish I hadn’t seen.
I give it one and a half knives.
WAITER: Here are your drinks.
LS: Drink up. A toast to making it through this one alive. Or rather, awake.
MA: (looks at glass) What is this, anyway? There’s something moving in my drink. Is that a scorpion?
LS: Haven’t you ever had a scorpion bowl before?
MA: Yeah, but they’ve never had real live scorpions in them!
LS: This is the wild west. Be a man! Chug it! It’ll put hair on your chest!
MA: I’ll pass. Waiter, another glass of ale, please.
LS: (drinks his glass, and pushes a scorpion leg back inside his mouth): Mmmm. You don’t know what you’re missing.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
Michael Arruda gives THE LONE RANGER ~ one and a half knives!
LL Soares gives THE LONE RANGER ~ half a knife.