Friday, 7 March 2014

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger

Whether you have seen this movie or not I’m sure you have heard some things about it, and I bet those things are mostly negative. ‘The Lone Ranger’ has, even in the short period of time since it released, become famous as a gargantuan cinematic flop that lost its studio a lot of money as a result of production problems and an enormous budget that was never fully recouped at the box office. This does not necessarily mean it is a bad film though, so when I finally sat down to watch ‘The Lone Ranger’ I was eager to discover if all the bad press the film had gotten was justifiable when considering its quality, or was ‘The Lone Ranger’ just another film to be ravaged as a result of its behind-the-scenes trouble.

In 1933 a young boy dressed in the iconic outfit of the Lone Ranger encounters an elderly Comanche Native American at a sideshow in San Francisco. The man (Johnny Depp) names himself as Tonto and goes on to tell the young boy of his adventures with the real Lone Ranger (Armie Hammer) many years ago.

I found that having an elderly Tonto relay the story of the film from 1933 was a very effective story device that allowed for exposition and context to be provided in a significantly more interesting way than a simple narration. These moments where the story jumps back to the Tonto of 1933 allow the audience to look at a Tonto who has long since had his adventures with the ranger, his experiences seem practically etched onto his face as evidenced by his abundant wrinkles. A particular moment that stood out to me was when the young boy, who is dressed in the garb of the Lone Ranger, first approaches Tonto. In this moment, when Tonto first lays eyes on the boy, we get to see a terrific piece of acting from Johnny Depp where Tonto at first believes he is seeing his friend one more time, his eyes fill with tears and his voice struggles to manage a word. It is an utterly heart-breaking look.

Johnny Depp is actually rather great as Tonto.

This is a brilliantly shot and very well made film by a director who knows exactly what to do with a blockbuster action film on this scale. Much like director Gore Verbinski’s first Pirates of the Caribbean film, ‘The Lone Ranger’ features a host of enjoyable performances and an entertaining story.  The performances of highlight here include William Fichtner’s grotesque gunslinger villain, Armie Hammer’s altruistic hero, and Johnny Depp’s surprisingly defined portrayal of Tonto. Honestly I would like to sit here and call Depp out for employing his usual shtick of mugging for the camera but in this case I actually rather enjoyed it and thought it worked for the character.

‘The Lone Ranger’ unexpectedly has quite a serious plot that involves such dark subject matter as cannibalism and massacres. Therefore it is a good thing that it very effectively weaves comedy into the story in order to provide some much-needed levity. The majority of this light-heartedness is provided by the duo of Tonto and the Lone Ranger himself, a double act I was surprised to find myself enjoying as much as I did. Their sometimes-comedic relationship really works as a counterweight to the darker side of both men which itself is explored within the story. Whilst I found this dynamic charming, I can certainly see areas where other viewers may take issue, for example the humour has the unfortunate tendency to upset the tone the film tries to set for itself, especially when some gags come across as weak and outright cheesy as they do.

The chemistry between Depp and Hammer is unusual but it works, most of the time.

Much has been made of the production problems that this film underwent during its development; at a certain point production was halted due to budget concerns. In response to this director Gore Verbinski and stars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer gave up 20% of their salaries in order to help facilitate the production costs of the film. Given that this made the news at the time it seemed to spell doom for the future success of ‘The Lone Ranger’ as some people had seemingly already been convinced of its quality. Upon release the response from critics was almost wholly negative with numerous reviewers citing the aforementioned production issues as a mark of a budget being higher than the quality of the written material. Personally I disagree with these opinions as I find that the behind-the-scenes drama really shouldn’t affect someone’s opinion on the finished film. The huge budget allows for a great many things to be achieved such as the state of the art effects and stunning locations for the film to take place in, but that budget also left the movie with a lot to live up to at the box office, something it ultimately went on to fail at.

Speaking of special effects, there are a lot of them used in ‘The Lone Ranger’, and I mean a lot. There are brilliant set pieces filled with explosions and death-defying leaps that manage to be both very entertaining and thrilling, but also reminiscent of the classic matinee westerns, albeit in a much more bombastic fashion. The same goes for the score of the film provided by the great Hans Zimmer. The musical accompaniment is loud, brash, and therefore perfectly suited to the rampant action occurring onscreen. The famous Lone Ranger theme itself however is wisely withheld until the climactic train sequence where it has the full exhilarating effect it deserves.

Gore Verbinski’s great direction is what keeps such a grandiose film like this on its course to adapting the legend of the Lone Ranger. Verbinski’s skill for commanding a film of this size shows but there are more than a few occasions where he neglects to edit himself, these bloated scenes are guilty of contributing to the film’s unappealingly long runtime. ‘The Lone Ranger’ is by no means a film that you can just sit down and watch, thanks to its daunting duration you really have to decide if you want to spend the 2 and half hours as opposed to a more readily watchable 90-minute film. That being said however, it still entertains almost in spite of its length, in fact the first 50 minutes went by so quickly that I felt only 20 had passed, showing further that Gore Verbinski’s impressive talent for directing a Wild West adventure on a large scale ultimately shines through. This would actually mark his second foray into that oddly specific genre due to his previous work in the excellent, and Academy Award winning, animated film ‘Rango’ (also starring Johnny Depp).

'The Lone Ranger' certainly isn't lacking for stunning landscape shots.

Despite my unexpected enjoyment of ‘The Lone Ranger’ there were of course a number of areas where I felt the film could have been improved. For instance if there weren’t such restrictions placed on the violent content of the film (no doubt Disney had something to do with this) and a slightly less skittish attitude was adopted then I think the film could have taken a more mature approach that would be a better fit for some of the quite frankly grim subject matter on hand. To be clear I’m not asking for Tarantino levels of blood splatter; that would be quite the overcorrection. Rather the point I’m trying to make is that it immediately takes me out of the experience when I see a man shot 3 times in the chest and yet not one drop of blood is spilled, a little authenticity to the brutality is all I’m asking for. This also comes into play when some of the darker aspects of the film are left solely as subtext rather than outright addressed, this type of sidestepping can certainly work in some situations but here it appears so obviously muddied that some scenes make little sense as a direct result of the deliberate vagueness.

If you want a film filled with substance and compelling character arcs then ‘The Lone Ranger’ may very well disappoint you. However if all you require is a thrilling adventure with some dazzling set pieces then I’m pleased to say that ‘The Lone Ranger’ will more than meet your expectations. I found this film to be a far cry from the cinematic garbage I had widely heard it to be, instead what I found was a damn enjoyable movie with quite a bit to admire.

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