The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lone Ranger

It is a character who's name is instantly recognizable, the Lone Ranger. First appearing in radio serials in 1933, the Lone Ranger has seen has his own very successful TV show in the 1950s, a brief run as an animated star in the 1960s, a disastrously bad (so I've heard) film version in 1981, and most recently, a reboot of the character of sorts, 2013's The Lone Ranger. Where does it stand? Well, it was one of the biggest financial disappointments of the year. Give it a try though, keep an open mind and I think you'll like it. I did.

It's 1869 in Colby, Texas and a young, naive, idealistic new district attorney, John Reid (Armie Hammer) arrives in town ready to clean up the area. The country is expanding, the railroad racing across the state, and Reid wants to be a part of it, to bring some civilization to the area. A problem has arisen though, a sadistic outlaw, Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), escaping from custody. Reid heads out with a posse of Texas Rangers to catch Cavendish, but they're ambushed and Reid is the only one to survive, albeit getting shot in the process. He awakes to find a Comanche warrior, Tonto (Johnny Depp), looking out for him, claiming that Reid is now a Spirit Warrior, a man who passed to the other side and come back to normal life. Tonto too is searching for Cavendish with his own reasons for revenge. Forming an unlikely partnership, Reid -- disguising himself because Cavendish believes he's dead -- and Tonto decide to work together to find Cavendish, all amidst the railroad issues and cavalry intervening with a possible Comanche uprising.

Released last summer in theaters, 'Lone' had quite the checkered history in actually getting to theaters. When it did reach audiences, it flopped. Odd to think of any movie that earned $260 million internationally being a flop, but when a film had a budget somewhere between $225-250 million and another $100-plus on promotion, well, it's a flop. Well.....I liked it. For me, my enjoyment started because it is an entertaining movie. Plain and simple, it's entertaining. More than that though as a western, it knows where the genre has come from. Hans Zimmer's musical score is solid if not up there with his best, but it samples spaghetti western master composer Ennio Morricone's scores from Once Upon a Time in the West and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in some nice nods to genre classics.  'Lone' was also filmed in Monument Valley, made famous by director John Ford, and even some of the shots are reminiscent of iconic Ford shots. It's nice little touches that this that start 'Lone' off on the right foot.

With a film directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp, my worry was that I would be watching a western version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Western Style. The end result is a positive and negative. Yes, it is in the same vein of the Pirates movies. It's big and loud and colorful and schizophrenic at times. There's a lot of characters, a lot going on, blending in the drama with some laughs and some action. In other words, 'Lone' tries to be that perfect summer blockbuster, succeeding for the most parts. What then are the biggest issues? A framing device in the story department comes up short, an aged, wrinkly Tonto in 1933 San Francisco telling the Lone Ranger's story to a little boy, is forced and tries to lighten the mood too much. The elements of the mystical and spiritual are overdone as well, Tonto's insistence that John is a Spirit Warrior good but just used too much. Also, is Tonto a spirit himself? Just have fun with the story. Don't overdo it like that.

One of the original hero/sidekick duos, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are two pretty cool characters no matter what Ranger incarnation we're talking. I wasn't sold on Hammer (The Social Network) as John Reid, but he grew on me with each passing scene. The same for Depp, the casting looking like he'd play Capt. Jack Sparrow in the west. His Tonto is quirky, a little off in the Capt. Jack vein, but it is most definitely a fun part. He definitely doesn't deserve the flak he's received, including a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor. I also don't think it's fair to criticize Depp for being cast as a Native American. Is it in poor taste? It's a movie. Cool your jets. Above all else, I liked the chemistry between Hammer and Depp. Hammer's John is somewhat suspicious of Tonto, wanting to do things his way. Depp's Tonto thinks John is a little off himself, his idealistic motivations having no place in the wild west. They're funny together, both given some background to humanize them a bit, Tonto's background providing some of the emotional background.

Who else to look out for? Fichtner is very creepy as the infamous outlaw Butch Cavendish who enjoys eating his victims' hearts as they die. Look for James Frain and Leon Rippy in small parts as members of Butch's gang. Tom Wilkinson plays Latham Cole, the railroad executive placed in charge of advancing the rails as fast and far as possible. It's Wilkinson so you know he's up to something. Otherwise, why would he be here? Ruth Wilson is solid too as John's sister-in-law, a past love, who married John's brother, a Texas Ranger, played in a nice supporting part for James Badge Dale. Also having some fun is Helena Bonham Carter as Red, a brothel owner with an ivory leg, siding with John and Tonto in their troubles while Barry Pepper plays a God-fearing, gung-ho cavalry officer working with Cole to control the Comanches. Even Stephen Root makes an appearance late as a higher-up in the railroad company who's checking on the progress his company is making.

Again in the vein of the Pirates series is the rollover in the action department. What's there is surprisingly gruesome in terms of on-screen violence, if not particularly graphic. So be forewarned, this may not be the movie for younger kids. Mostly though, the action is flashy and fun, big and entertaining, gigantic action sequences full of CGI, crazy stunts and scenarios that no real-life human being could accomplish. The opening sequence where John and Tonto meet is pretty cool, the duo chained together and trying to stop a runaway train. The same for the finale, a train packed with silver lode being chased by another train, anyone and everyone jumping on and off one train and then the next, one ridiculous thing after another. It's goofy and fun right from the start, keeping things entertaining throughout the 149-minute running time.

Fans of the Lone Ranger will hopefully enjoy this one. I didn't come in as a huge fan with high expectations, just looking for a fun movie. It is, doing the Lone Ranger justice from his capable, maybe super-horse, Silver (his "Hi-yo, Silver, away! providing a good laugh), and of course, the Lone Ranger theme -- listen HERE -- from the William Tell overture, all those touches you're looking for in a movie with this iconic character. It's a reboot, but because of the financial struggles, this will probably be it for the series/franchise. So what are we left with? A movie that is overindulgent, goofy, schizophrenic and a whole lot of fun with some great characters, good laughs and lots of entertaining moments.

The Lone Ranger (2013): ***/****


  1. Hmmm, I don't know. First off, I'm angry you liked this. More than that you didn't review BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Or did I miss that? Well really, I'm not angry. I actually thought this movie had moments. But it was, to me, a misfire... more than a disaster. Altho I thought Hammer's performance was pretty bad. Depp tried his best, and then again, he didn't try at all, relying on his Jack Sparrow charm too much to build a character on its own. Or something.

  2. Hammer was a little off, no doubt about it. Plain and simple though, I was entertained in spite of all its oddness and general schizophrenia. I'm also a sucker for anything western-related so that can be used in the case against me.

  3. And Battle should be posted sometime next week. You didn't miss it!