The Western: a film genre practically built on political incorrectness that has had a hard time surviving into the 21st century. With all the controversy surrounding Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s reboot of the classic radio and television show “The Lone Ranger”, from pre-production issues to a disappointing opening weekend box office, I simply had to investigate this film for myself. What I found was an action-packed and fun summer movie, not too different from Verbinski and Depp’s hugely successful “Pirates of the Carribean” franchise (and unlike three-quarters of that series, “The Lone Ranger” was actually watchable). How is it that Quentin Tarantino can make an Oscar-winning spaghetti-western film about slavery, but having Johnny Depp depict a Native American is deemed inappropriate? Don’t get me wrong, “The Lone Ranger” is not a perfect movie and has clear flaws, but the backlash has been impressive to say the least. Featuring performances from Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tom Wilkinson, “The Lone Ranger” is the dark horse of this summer blockbuster season.
“We Ride for Justice”
John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a Texas district attorney who joins his brother Dan, a Texas Ranger, to get a practical look at law and justice in the real world as they track down convict Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner). Their quest takes a tragic turn when the group of rangers are ambushed, leaving John the only survivor. With the help of Comanche tribesman Tonto (Johnny Depp), John heals and adopts a new identity as a masked ranger who seeks justice and the imprisonment of Cavnedish. However, an impending war between the settlers and the Comanche leads The Lone Ranger to discover that this isn’t your typical “black hat/white hat” western; like our hero, the villains are also masked and The Ranger and Tonto must play an elaborate cat and mouse game to stop massive bloodshed from their respective tribes.
“Lone Ranger” Takes Viewers on a Wild Ride
Verbinski embraces the Western genre’s inherent mobility and action by choreographing elaborate sequences that make this film a thrilling ride. From start to finish, the emotional intensity and suspense was maintained at a high level making this 2.5 hour movie fly by like a runaway train. If you’re familiar with the “Pirates” franchise, then many of the action and stunt sequences are reminiscient of the series, combining humour, fast editing, and careful character placement to give the movie a true sense of excitement. While unrealistic, these sequences are also creative and match the tone of the ideal summer popcorn flick.
Johnny Depp Steals the Show…Again
Other critics have noted the overwhelmingly significant part Depp plays in “The Lone Ranger’s” success as a film, and I have to agree. Tonto steals the show compared to Hammer’s straight-edge, and at times, bland hero. When it comes to Depp’s voice, mannerisms, and perfectly timed one-liners, he takes the stereotypical “noble savage” role and completely turns it around displaying dimension and intelligence. As for the other Native American roles in the film, it was clear to me that a deliberate effort was made to distance this film from the classic Westerns of the past that essentially villanized any on-screen Native. Again, while not a perfect or equal representation, “The Lone Ranger” does accurately depict the destruction created by the settlers to the Native communities.
Will the Western Survive?
Where “The Lone Ranger” falters in in a bizarre frame-narrative set in 1933 that keeps interrupting the main action. I think they were going for a sense of legend and timelessness, but it really just complicated the structure and felt awkward. As well, Verbinski seems to be really fond of overlapping and dissolving images giving this film, at times, the same aesthetic quality of a cheap TV movie. Still, I found the movie entertaining and to me, this is one of the best live-action films Disney has made in recent memory. My recommendation is to see “The Lone Ranger” and decide for yourself; think of it as “Pirates of the Caribbean” but with horses and trains. Unfortunately, if this film’s success is any indication, it looks like for the Western is dead for the modern audience member, and not even Tonto can bring it back to life.