Of all the summer action/adventure movies, The Lone Ranger (2013) stands, and I submit will continue to stand, as the very best. Those who disagree are incorrect and I’ll tell you why. All those that came before were works of vicious compromise, movies by committee, if not just poor top to bottom. The Lone Ranger is cohesive, consistent, and has a message of solid silver. I said in my list of the Top 13 Most Anticipated films of 2013 that I was relying on the Gore Verbinski of Rango (2011) (review) to make The Lone Ranger worthy of anticipation and that Verbinski did arrive. The one that has good taste in westerns, the talent to direct, and the wisdom not to draw attention to himself. And the music. I don’t believe there is another director who would have had the courage to exclusively use the William Tell Overture by Rossini (The Lone Ranger’s theme) for the climactic sequence of the movie.
John Reid (Armie Hammer) is on his way home to Colby, TX to take up the role of county prosecutor. Locke’s Treatises on Government are Reid’s Bible and he believes in the law. [He didn’t go to my law school, then.] His brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is the law man in those parts. He’s got his wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and boy Danny (Bryant Prince) to protect from the Comanches and evil-doers like Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner). Butch is on the train to Colby, sent in by railroad man Cole (Tom Wilkinson), to be executed as an example of the safety provided in their fair town. Also on the train is an odd Comanche named Tonto (Johnny Depp) who has a dead crow on his head for some reason. It transpires that Butch gets himself free and Dan and the newly deputized John Reid head out with the other rangers to bring him back in. As you might expect, that doesn’t go as planned and just about everybody gets killed except for John, who, according to Tonto, is a spirit walker who must ride for justice. He does so ride.
What do you want to know about this movie? It’s funny but not very clever. None of Logan‘s pun from writers Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio. They do have a screenplay that is balanced without being slack (even with a two and a half hour runtime). It does have its fair share of allusions to classic Lone Ranger paraphernalia, poking fun at some of their sillier aspects. Also here are the essential elements of both the Clint Eastwood and Gary Cooper westerns: the railroad, mining, change, a damsel in distress (but not so helpless as to be sexist), and rugged frontiersmanship. For all of that mixing, its message remains clean and singular. It’s about greed and integrity.
But this isn’t a masterpiece, sadly. I’m not sure that it could have been, so perhaps I should be pleased that it brought as much maturity as it could bear. The performances, for one thing, were a bit too goofy to make this a movie you’d come back to again and again. Hammer plays the role as, or perhaps it is written as, aimless and weak without any kind of menace. All of those leading man qualities are handed over to Depp’s Tonto. Reid gets a little piece of a love interest to keep it sweet, but Tonto has some dark and heavy demons to lay to rest in this conflict. For plot, it’s the best part of the movie. But the lack of cleverness in the dialogue is a disappointment. The cleverest thing in the movie is Helena Bonham Carter‘s character name, Red Harrington. I’d also mention that while the Hans Zimmer score is quite gratifying–some bits of Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)–it isn’t as seamlessly placed as it was in Rango.
The look and feel of the movie are what stand out the most. The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli fluctuates between stylized-unsaturated and what I can only describe as “western regular”. Like the plot elements, that kind of mixture might have been jarring–like the sandy realism and clean smoothness in Oblivion (2013)–are somehow unobtrusively knit together. The feeling comes from the central device of Tonto about 70 years later (in 1933), telling the story to a young boy dressed as the Lone Ranger. It’s a bit like The Princess Bride (1987) in that way. After the intermediate credits, just before the rolling credits begin, the film closes on such a solid note that I left the theater feeling like I had to tell everyone that if they are going to put themselves through the half-entertainment of a summer blockbuster, that they had better pick The Lone Ranger.
Oh well, go away.