Having now seen it, I’m inclined to side with Johnny Depp and others associated with the movie to the effect that, like last summer’s “John Carter of Mars,” it was never given a proper chance. The press decided pre-release that it was going to be a turkey, and that’s pretty much all you ever saw in reviews. In our opinion, although it’s far from a great movie, it was a lot of fun. Once you get down to it, the story of the railroad encroaching on Indian land is a treatment of a pretty classic Western story, to which the iconic “Lone Ranger” elements—the man left for dead and rescued by the Native American, the hidden silver lode (the source of the “silver bullets”) are nicely integrated.
Yes, the action sequences that both begin and end the film are overdone (literal ”train wrecks” in both cases), but so shamelessly so that it’s interesting to see what kind of stunt they are going to pull next. The weakest part of the movie is the awkward framing device, in which 90+year old Tonto tells the story to a boy visiting a Wild West show in the 1930’s. (Think about Peter Falk telling the story in “The Princess Bride.” Admit it, when you think about that movie, you always forget those parts, don’t you?) Also, it’s kind of surprising to see that extreme old-age makeup hasn’t changed much since Dustin Hoffman’s famous image in “Little Big Man,” especially since we now have the technology to both digitally age a face and then to animate it using CGI.
Depp’s “Tonto” steals the movie (but we expected that). Much more than a “sidekick”, he is in fact the senior partner in the relationship with Armie Hammer’s “John Reid”, and does the most outrageous stunts with a grave solemnity that’s consistent with the character’s revealed background. Hammer does a decent job of playing a man out of his depth, but he’s pretty much overshadowed by Depp, by William Fichter as one of the nastiest villains to come along in quite a while, and Ruth Wilson as the wife of John’s brother, who fights raiders at the ranch, joins the boys in hanging off a speeding train, and suffers getting (accidentally) hit in the head with a lump of coal by Tonto. They are well supported by Tom Wilkinson (seen as the saintly Graham Dashwood in “The Very Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) as railroad man Latham Cole, and Helena Bonham Carter in a featured role as ballerina-turned-madam “Red” Harrington, who sports one of the coolest ever artificial legs (“Can I touch it?” is a running gag.)
So, if you’ve got two and a half hours to kill and wouldn’t mind a thrill ride, you could do worse than go see “The Lone Ranger.”
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