Filmmaker Gore Verbinski was dragged over red hot coals by critic’s the world over when his version of The Lone Ranger hit screens in 2014. Equally hauled over the same coals were stars Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp. At the time of release as Hammer himself pointed out, the issue was not the film, the acting, the plot or even the cinematography, but the budget alone that seemed to raise all that vitriol.
Like an earlier Disney release, the 2012 film John Carter, The Lone Ranger had a more than colossal production cost. “Carter” had an estimated budget of over $263 million and was deemed a flop as its world wide box office did never surpassed $73 million. Verbinski’s film cost an estimated $215 million (somewhat less than the John Carter budget) and recouped $89 million. At the time Gore’s vision of the western classic was considered more of a flop than the Andrew Stanton film.
In hindsight, neither movie was a bad as all that. The public were not overly interested to be sure but both films had a fairly good premise, great source material for a start, and did entertain. Sadly, the Mars based film failed to ignite and the western icon movie was misunderstood.
Watching Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer (in his first starring role, yet under Johnny Depp in terms of billing) the two actors worked well together and while Depp may have been doing yet another quirky character, he did so with his usual aplomb and dedication to detail.
Where things get cloudy is in the film’s various homages and numerous nods and winks combined with the manner in which the tale is told. Critics apparently got too caught up in the John Ford and Sergio Leone tributes and forgot the basics of the story. (There were plenty of homages made in this Disney film. Depp appeared to do a number of Buster Keaton type stunts/gags that would be lost to all but other cinephiles. This over indulgence on Verbinski’s part may have also helped to torpedo his efforts with critics, as well as audiences.)
The movie begins in 1933 San Francisco when a young boy enters a tented exhibit of “yesteryear” a part of a Wild West Show. Inside he meets a “live” part of the show, an anciently old Tonto (Depp) who mistakes the youngster for “Kemo Sabe.” The old sidekick of The Lone Ranger retells the legend of the masked man’s origin.
Therein lies the problem. The tale which has various anachronistic clangers and things that just do not fit regardless of time period do so because it is a story told to a child by a very old man. In other words told in away that a “modern boy” can understand. For instance, in the gunfight sequences, no one needs to reload whilst they are participating in the heat of battle.
Their guns seem to have unlimited ammunition until, that is, it becomes a plot device or a shift in scene. On top of the train, Hammer (The Lone Ranger) and Butch Cavendish (a wonderfully wicked William Fichtner) have shot hundreds of rounds of ammo yet when Ruth Wilson, as Rebecca Reid is held hostage, by Butch, both men’s weapons come up empty.
The more ridiculous parts of the film, like the magic guns of the players, do not detract when one remembers the “old” Tonto telling his story to a boy idea. A number of the events then make perfect sense: The horse being ridden on the train or across the roofs of buildings, Tonto falling an incredible height onto a rolling rail car full of silver and not being injured, the masked man being pulled out of the ground by his teeth and a horse eating scorpions after capturing them with its tongue…The list goes on.
Comically the film works beautifully, even the odd inclusion of Helena Bonham Carter as the one-legged madam with a Planet Terror “gun for a leg” gag works. (To be fair, Carter’s character had a gun hidden in her ivory prosthetic leg.) All in all, despite the “juvenile” scope of the film, it works.
The Lone Ranger does have problems, but not with its score, cinematography or its story. Where the real issues lay have to do with the film’s length and its director’s self indulgence. The performers do a good job, Tom Wilkinson, Barry Pepper, Depp, Wilson, Hammer and Fichtner do justice to their parts. None of these performers need hang their heads in shame.
Gore Verbinski’s film may one day be more appreciated and become much less vilified for its budget. The film is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and via streaming services. It is worth a look, even if it is an overly long viewing experience, the film does what it is meant to do. It entertains. A 4 out of 5 star film, it loses a full star for those abysmal buffalo shots around the train.