Ranger a bleakly comic origin story of Wild West mythMovies
Director Gore Verbinski reunites with his Pirates of the Caribbean and Rango star Johnny Depp in a long, mixed-up, action-adventure extravaganza that draws on a classic western tale – radio serial and a TV series – about the enigmatic title character and his Native American sidekick, Tonto.
This is, in many ways, a disenchanted vision: broad comic moments and hectic action sequences in spectacular scenery are embedded in a bleak origins story of the west.
Armie Hammer plays a young lawyer, John Reid, a Locke-quoting idealist who believes in the power of the law to do good. While travelling to meet his Texas Ranger brother he encounters a fearsome villain, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and a sceptical Native American, Tonto (Johnny Depp). Both, in their different ways, play a role in changing his mind about institutions, turning him into the masked Lone Ranger, operating outside the law.
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in The Lone Ranger.
Pirates writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, plus Justin Haythe, have concocted a work of contrary impulses. There are broad gags and slapstick sequences, none particularly felicitous, and some characters – Helena Bonham Carter's one-legged saloon keeper, Fichtner's bloodthirsty villain – have a distinctly over-the-top quality.
But The Lone Ranger is also in the revisionist western tradition, painting a downbeat portrait of the myths of the West.
A framing device, set in 1933, acknowledges the mythic power of Wild West carnivals and the era of the original radio serial. There are nods to movies: the Monument Valley locations of John Ford, moments that seem influenced by Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, and references to Buster Keaton's The General.
There has been criticism of the casting of Depp as a Comanche, and, surprisingly, his stolid reading of Tonto is one of the less successful aspects of the film.
In the end, it's the spectacle that works best. Verbinski certainly knows what to do with trains and horses.
In its best scenes, particularly the extended chase finale, The Lone Ranger draws on the energy that characterised what is arguably his best film, the manic Mousehunt.