The Lone Ranger (12A.)
Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Starring Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham-Carter. 149 mins.
Johnny Depp’s film career has been steered by two Scorsese figures. His films with Tim Burton (initially) gave him oddball artistic integrity; his films with Verbinski gave him filthy lucre. He has had a good ride with both of them but both partnerships have been recently derailed by flops. Last year’s Burton collaboration Dark Shadows was a tired effort, an inevitable nadir for a pairing that (Sweeney Todd apart) had been in steady decline since the turn of the century. The three Verbinski/ Depp Pirates films made the best part of three billion dollars in cinemas while estimates of how much this would lose were circulating before it even came out. The Lone Ranger though isn’t so very much different from the rubbish this star/ director combo were turning out in the Pirates films.
It is an odd creation – an attempt to make an upbeat piece of all American summer fluff based on the genocidal birth of their nation. The plot basics are taken from Once Upon a Time in the West (a fact frequently acknowledged by Hans Zimmer’s score) with the coming of the railroad represents the rape of the land. Buffalos are shoved into every possible frame as a reminder of the price of taming a continent, while a major action sequence is a massacre of Native Americans. As such it is much like their last Pirates film, At World’s End, which had similarly wonky balance between gloom and frivolity and opened, , for no discernible reason, with a mass hanging and a young boy being led to the gallows.
Those films had beloved characters and overblown cameos to fall back on but the central relationship doesn’t work here. Hammer’s Lone Ranger is a hamstrung figure, a dupe and a stooge, bounding self-righteously from one blunder to the next. To most people the Lone Ranger is little more than a mask, a snatch of music and a catchphrase but every time Hammer’s character tries to assume his mantle the film mocks his presumptions and slaps him down. The one time he cries “Hi ho Silver, away” Tonto tells him never to do that again and you think if that’s Depp’s attitude why bother making a Lone Ranger film? It’s not like we were crying out for one.
The film is thus rigged for Depp’s Tonto but his performance doesn’t fill the screen. His cracked white face paint strongly suggest Heath Ledger’s Joker and the idea must have been for him to give us a Buster Keatonesque display of deadpan in a film with not one but two epic train chases in the style of Buster’s classic The General. Tonto though remains a sidekick, a sidekick to nobody.