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At the movies

The Lone Ranger
DIRECTED BY: Gore Verbinski
STARRING: Armie Hammer, Johnny Depp, Tom Wilkinson



The Lone Ranger will go down in Hollywood history as one of the great financial disasters, destined to appear in all-time flop lists alongside the likes of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. In advance of that film’s release in 1980, it was heralded as “the western to end all westerns!” It nearly did, too, though not quite like they imagined. Some decades down the road, it’s The Lone Ranger who has surely put the last nail in that coffin.

Having performed poorly in the States, taking in $90 million on a $250 million budget, its creators (director Gore Verbinski, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio) can forget about a sequel, never mind a franchise. Which is probably a good thing, all said.

On the other hand, it’s unfortunate that the film is already box office poison, arriving here virtually dead in the water. Because, like Cimino’s recently re-released epic, The Lone Ranger is really quite a decent movie.

It’s an origin story, of course, but that’s fine. Most people under 40 will have no memory of the TV series, let alone the original 1930s radio show. The Lone Ranger’s tale is told by his old sidekick, Tonto (Depp), who’s spending his old age as a sideshow attraction in 1930s San Franscico. His audience is a wide-eyed young boy (Mason Cook) in a white cowboy hat and black mask, who’s about to learn how the legend began.

As so many western legends do, it starts on a train. On board this train is John Reid (Hammer), a lawyer with big plans and a bright future, heading for Colby, Texas. His fellow passengers include two prisoners. One is the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), the other an Indian named Tonto, a strange, possibly deranged individual who wears a dead crow on his head and occasionally tries to feed it.

Later, when Butch’s gang ride to his rescue, Reid is made a Ranger by lawman brother, Dan (James Badge Dale) and a posse is rounded up to hunt down the fugitive. One violent ambush later, Reid is the last man standing – or rather, last man into a shallow grave before being nursed back to health by his new Indian buddy and swearing to avenge his kin. In the spirit of brotherhood, he also intends to ensure that his sibling’s widow Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) won’t be lonely.

In many ways, The Lone Ranger is a mess. The tone of the thing is all over the place, jumping from goofy comedy to violent action movie, from dark drama to epic tragedy. It’s as if Verbinski and his writers couldn’t make up their minds whether to go for Dances With Wolves or Blazing Saddles and ended up in some weird no-man’s land in between. So we get the crooked railroad man (Tom Wilkinson), the bloodthirsty cavalry leader (Barry Pepper), the consumption of a still-beating human heart, and the savage treatment of the Indian tribes. Then Depp does something silly, or Silver the horse gets stuck in a tree.

Other than a bloated running time of 149 minutes, the film’s other major flaw is its main man. Not Armie Hammer, who makes a fine Lone Ranger, but Johnny Depp, who does for Tonto exactly what he did for Willy Wonka and turns him into a creepy, irritating twit. He’s Jack Sparrow in the wild West – after Sparrow stopped being funny.

Despite the irritations and the messiness, though, there’s plenty of good stuff here. Overall, the fun manages to just about win the day. It’s not exactly packed with action but, when it does show up, on board those trains, naturally enough, it’s impressive both because of the spectacle and how little it relies on CGI.

It’s not quite the kind of film that will inspire another generation of kids to wear cowboy hats and holsters, not least because it’s not exactly suitable for young children to begin with.

If it spells the end for the western, The Lone Ranger is hardly the finest of farewells. But, contrary to most critical opinion, it’s still an enjoyable adventure.

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