Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)
A solid Western tale with the right balance of action and comedy.
Bloated story, lots of fluff, and a lack of direction in places.
Giving it a shot
I have to admit: Before this movie came out I actually had little interest in going to see it. The one saving grace that made me consider it was Johnny Depp playing Tonto, but even that didn’t get me interested enough. Perhaps on some level it has to do with me never being someone who got into the Lone Ranger thing anyway, having only seen some reruns of the black-and-white TV show as a kid, but the movie just seemed kind of overblown and out there from the ads I saw. Yet, queue in a rainy Fourth of July week that kept me from being able to go to the pool or the beach and a reason cropped up for me to head to the theaters. With The Lone Ranger being the only big movie that appealed to me at the theater that day, I decided to give it a shot.
Meet the Lone Ranger
One thing I think deserves applaud is the story is told in a rather unique way. The film opens at a carnival in San Francisco in 1933, where a young boy stops in at a Wild West side-show attraction. It is there that he meets an elderly Comanche who makes the claim that he is the famous Tonto from the Lone Ranger stories. He tells the kid, who had removed his black Lone Ranger’s mask, to “never take the mask off,” and when the kid asks him what difference that makes, he proceeds to tell his skeptical audience the origin tale of the man who came to later be called the Lone Ranger. The rest of the film mostly takes place back in the past, yet from time to time the story gets paused as the kid asks questions and pokes holes in things left rather unspecific by the Native American with the dead bird on his head.
The rest of the relevant story takes place in Texas, Utah, and other in-between locales in 1869, right at the peak of the railroad movement to connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail. The story centers around a ruthless outlaw named Butch Cavendish who is being transported by train to Texas to be hanged for his crimes. John Reid, a lawyer, happens to be on the train when Cavendish’s men come to help him break free. It is here that he meets up with Tonto, another prisoner on the train (for reasons that are sadly never explained throughout the film), who saves his life after their train car derailed off the tracks and nearly kills them. Reid gets deputized as a Texas Ranger by his brother Dan to join up with a posse that sets out to hunt down Cavendish and his men. When they are betrayed and brutally murdered, John, who miraculously survives (and becomes the butt of some running jokes from Tonto for the rest of the film), begins to hide his identity and lets stories about him being the “ghost of Dan Reid” run wild as he searches for justice.
With the basic premise off to a good start, the movie slowly begins to falter and get bogged down with unnecessary side-stories and bloated plot devices. What starts out as a story about a lawyer who seeks justice for his brother’s murder outside of the bounds of the law quickly starts to thread out into too many different areas. After a while you simply aren’t sure if this is a story about frontier justice, a cautionary tale about greedy industrial tycoons, a tale about lost treasures, or an eye-opening documentary about the injustices wrought upon the Native Americans by the white men.
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By the end of the movie, Cavendish seems to be little more than the strong-arm of the railroad corporation – a company led by a man who is seeking a lost silver reserve in the hills that he wants to use for a hostile take-over of the corporation. Even the Infantry is duped into their pockets by the hapless Captain Jay Fuller – a man who seems like a gullible image of Custer, just a few years before Little Big Horn.
When in doubt
At the end of the day, everything does wrap up well-enough to where things make sense, but ultimately what saves the day is the quality acting of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. Many had question Depp’s portrayal of Tonto, wondering if he would ultimately do justice to the Comanche people, yet Depp does a good job paying homage to their culture and even learning to speak their language. Depp, of course, brings his typical fun-loving nature to the table and provides comic relief throughout the story, yet his character’s past is flawed and tragic enough to where the audience really does feel that there is a lot more to him than he lets on.
From a historical perspective, the movie does a fine enough job of portraying rural life in 1869 and it really serves to evoke the style of the classic Spaghetti Westerns of yore. There are a couple minor anachronisms here and there, such as a playful mention by Tonto of a “refrigerator” (a device that was hardly known at all as it was very experimental in 1869), though most of the time these are meant to be joking and not taken incredibly seriously.
All in all, the film stumbles in a few areas, but manages to tell a fun story. If you like Westerns, like a fun action story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you like Johnny Depp’s style of comedy, this movie is certainly worth seeing. If you are looking for a very accurate portrayal of the Old West and a down-to-earth tale of gunslinging, though, this one may not fit the bill. Still, most movie-goers are likely to find this to be a fun use of their two-and-a-half hours, even if the film could have stood to cut out a little bit of that.