Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Here's an anecdote that will make sense to nobody outwith Scotland. When I was quite young I wrote in to the letters/joke page of the Oor Wullie section of The Sunday Post. I sent in a joke and received, if I remember correctly, a £5 gift token, and my name in print. The joke wasn't great, but I still kinda like it. See what you think.

Tonto is riding through the countryside one day and sees The Lone Ranger coming towards him, with a bin bag over his shoulder.
"Where are you going?" asks Tonto.
"To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump. To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump."

I admit, it may not work quite as well when written down. Anyway, let's move on.

There are some movies that just don't stand much chance with the critics. That can happen for a variety of reasons. The subject matter. The budget. Bad casting choices. And much more besides. The Lone Ranger was one of those movies. And I can think of two main reasons for the knives being drawn. One, the budget, which apparently went just over $200M. Two, the casting of Johnny Depp in the role of Tonto, the Native American sidekick to the main character. I don't care about the budget for blockbuster movies, personally. Once you're over $100M then everything tends to blur into one big, fat wad of cash anyway. I do agree with everyone who thought that casting Johnny Depp as Tonto was ridiculous, however, but realise that he's the only BIG name in the cast. That means that the decision is still dubious, but a bit more understandable. Yet it's still not a good enough reason to completely drub a film that actually has some moments of rollicking entertainment.

The story is, as if you couldn't guess, all about how a man (Armie Hammer) assumed the role of The Lone Ranger. With Tonto by his side, for better or worse, he eventually comes to realise that his idealistic approach to the law may not be beneficial to his health, especially if the criminals that he wants to capture are just working for more powerful, but hidden, villains.

Directed by Gore Verbinski, there's no denying that the film has a certain Pirates Of The Caribbean vibe to it. There are issues with the pacing, there are some big, entertainingly complicated, action sequences, and there's Johnny Depp being a bit kooky. The script, by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, packs in much more than it needs to. The Lone Ranger doesn't have to be a complex character. He's a good guy, plain and simple. Yet the writers here decide to focus on his steep learning curve, as he grows into the mask, and then amuse themselves with a framing device that allows them more room to play around with the narrative. It does make for a few good moments, admittedly, but could easily have been trimmed to save the movie a good 10-15 minutes, in my estimation.

Hammer is good as the hero. I like him a lot, thanks to his ability to temper the stoic heroic qualities required with some solid comedic talent. Depp - well, we've already covered his performance. He's not terrible, although many will disagree. Ruth Wilson is a tough woman who finds herself in danger, and she's okay, but given short shrift by the script. William Fichtner fares much better, playing the dangerous criminal known as Butch Cavendish, and Tom Wilkinson repeats the kind of decent performance that is often required of British actors in American blockbusters. Barry Pepper proves to be a highlight, once again. As he does in almost every movie that he appears in. And there are also small roles for James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Treadaway and Stephen Root, among others.

There are a number of scenes that feel a bit dull and lifeless, yet the movie really shows how great it could have been in a few extended set-pieces that raise up the energy levels and mix CGI, fantastic stunt work, and a healthy dollop of humour to provide the kind of exuberant fun that I wish more blockbusters would strive for. And the finale, accompanied by that rousing theme music (well, it's the final section of the "William Tell Overture" but many grew up with it as "the theme tune from The Lone Ranger"), is a surprisingly great piece of cinema, marred by some excessive FX work and both helped and hindered by a sense of ridiculousness.

I wouldn't be brave enough to say that this is a movie that you may be pleasantly surprised by. Okay, what the hell, I will. Give The Lone Ranger a try some time, and you might be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was.


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