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The Lone Ranger

Nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the 86th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 86th Annual Academy Awards

So, what exactly was the problem here, because I’m not quite sure that I get it. Why was “The Lone Ranger” such a notorious critical and financial bomb after its summer 2013 release? It was unable to cover its production and marketing costs, despite sporting the creative tandem that brought you the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, that boasted worldwide grosses in the billions. That team, of course, is world-renowned superstar Johnny Depp, Oscar-winning director(“Rango”)Gore Verbinski, and Walt Disney Pictures. Was it the Western thing? The last fifteen years have seen a number of expensive, high-profile releases of that genre that ultimately failed to become hits. Were the critics out to get it? Shifting release dates, a troubled production history and budgetary concerns were well publicized prior to the expected blockbuster’s release. Also, the early trailers were particularly uninspired. Here’s a little secret though: the much-maligned “The Lone Ranger” is actually good. In fact, there are times when it is exceptionally good. Disney lost a mint on this one, and it shouldn’t have. I’ll even argue that it’s better than all of the mega-popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies before it. Remember where you read that first.

Long? Oh yeah, but there is lots of iconic history to be crammed into this 149-minute epic(still almost twenty minutes shorter, btw, than the elephantine mess that was 2007’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”), and they manage to squeeze a lot of it in. There are silver bullets, the William Tell Overture, faithful horses, and an identity-concealing black mask. Armie hammer is our hero, John Reid(aka, you know who), and dare I preach that he gets his interpretation of this character just right for a blockbuster of these proportions. Johnny Depp is our Comanche Indian called Tonto, and I’ve got to say, his mannerisms, attitude and line readings were a constant delight. Mr. Depp is a gifted performer and a superb mimic, and his Tonto is a highly original creation while paying a high level of respect to the sidekick’s history. And prolific character actor William Fichtner is sleazily solid as the ruthless and sadistic outlaw, Butch Cavendish. There is also marvelous support work from twice Oscar-nominated actor Tom Wilkinson, fellow two-time Academy Award nominee(and all around wonderful)Helena Bonham Carter, and the fetching Ruth Wilson as love-interest, Rebecca Reid.

Now, is there some bloat here? Without question. But is there a recent summer tent-pole release that doesn’t contain some level of excess? And honestly, despite the Disney-bigness of it all, there are some beautifully small and touching moments too. In fact, the whole recounted narration approach, as told by a 1933 now-ancient Tonto, as he harkens back over three score years, is a truly galvanizing touch. As noted by many, it screams of homage to Arthur Hiller’s famed 1970 feature “Little Big Man”, in which Dustin Hoffman performed a similar function. The device imbues the piece with a haunting, elegiac tone while blatantly implementing the manner of a carnival sideshow tall tale, as told to an impressionable and all too eager-to-listen youngster(Mason Cook). The action scenes are exciting and artful, Hans Zimmer’s score is triumphant and rousing(and really, that William Tell Overture stinger never seems to get old). Yes, there are instances where the gigantic enterprise does become a bit unwieldy, especially involving some nonsense centered around a takeover of a railroad company to garner a silver-rich mine. But so much of “The Lone Ranger” is remarkably grand summer season fun that it’s a wonder anyone would be so unyielding regarding its expected excesses(gotten a look at 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” lately?). “The Lone Ranger” is already begging for rediscovery, and I’m more than happy to sign up with the cult right here and right now.     Grade:  B

next review up:  “Upstream Color”

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4 comments on “The Lone Ranger

  1. Confirmed that I really need to see this. I have a lot of time for Verbinski as a director, though I think he works better with the smaller films (The Weatherman, The Ring) than the blockbusters.

  2. Thank you for verifying that this is worth a watch. I have been interested in it for a while, despite the long runtime that keeps putting me off, and the negative reviews. A B is a good score, and it says that I should be giving this a shot! Well written review Mark!

  3. Thanks for the kudos, sir! It is remarkable just how much certain professional critics will pile on with bad press for a certain film, once one or two start the bashing. I believe that is what occurred here. Over time “The Lone Ranger” will be re-evaluated. But, unfortunately, its tepid box office is a done deal. ML

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