BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.
DadaDun DadaDun, Dada DunDunDun ... ah you get the point. The Lone Ranger and Tonto are characters etched into pop culture's collective hive mind mostly because of their infectious, pervasive theme - The William Tell Overture - (that I stupidly attempted to write out). They're seemingly redundant figures of a more modest time; that is until the team that transformed a ride at Disneyland into billion dollar film franchise - Gore Verbinski, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp - decided to dust off the brand.
1869. Starting as strangers on a train into a burgeoning West, John Reid (Armie Hammer) and Tonto (Johnny Depp) are thrust together by greedy transport tycoons, savage criminals, Comanche warriors, tyrannical conservatives and shared tragedy toward their mythic destiny.
In the wake of Verbinski's wonderful and critically lauded animation Rango, he feels desperate to lavish cinematographic adoration on those iconic Western landscapes. The American west, particularly Monument valley gets shown for all it's grandeur.
Depp is at his original Pirates best here, stealing the entire film as Tonto. His infectious charm and ability to wield humour that pokes fun at the quite brutal origins of the Ranger really save what could have been an arduous experience. And there's some really tremendous supporting characters too. Barry Pepper's 'Custer' looking Capt. Jay Fuller in his brief scenes is a wonderfully realised, perverse, butcher. William Fichtner shines as the grotesque psychopath Butch Cavendish. The long time side-line character actor relishes the taste of the spotlight (and the flesh) being front and centre as chief bad guy.
Unfortunately Hammer, like the perpetually boring Orlando Bloom before him, is a deep voiced vanilla foil to the tapestry of interesting characters that populate this piece. It's not all his fault though. Screen writing 'three amigos' Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio really back themselves into a corner with the character. Opening the piece he's firmly in the shadow of his heroic Texas Ranger brother Dan (James Badge Dale). While Dan is working in the thick of Comanche territory, battling the wild outlaws and savages alike he's also husband to John's childhood crush Rebecca (Ruth Wilson - aka Alice from Luther). John's returning from city life the educated lawman, pining for Rebecca's love, aloof from the grimy reality of lawless frontier life; and consequently he's totally inferior to his brother in every way. The untimely demise of Dan that provides motivation for John to pursue his inevitable crusade, but that's not all. This reviewer cannot understand the strategy to overcomplicate and thus convolute the motivations of John/Ranger. Vengeance usually would be enough - see the entire history of narrative cinema - but here it's vengeance, un-civilisation, greed, unrequited love and loss of faith in institutions to boot. It adds to the running time but detracts from the character. Finally, there's a lot of extreme violence. With Native American's being massacred, scalping, cannabalism and more, one wonders what pushed Verbinski toward the extreme Deadwood aspects of the west, instead of his usually lightness.
The Lone Ranger is a tonally imbalanced Western adventure, but random comedic gems mixed with the perfect dose of Depp make this franchise reawakening a serviceable cinematic escape.
[rating=2] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.