Review: The Lone Ranger (Plays Itself)

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Gore Verbinski does to The Lone Ranger what Sophia Coppola did to Marie Antoinette—bends a legend and a few histories into a tongue-in-cheek spirit animal—a thing that’s tasted both innocence and knowledge, a parent in the clothes of a plaything. Verbinski’s made almost a career out of his references to other films—if you’ve seen Rango you know how deep and crooked the layers can go—and with The Lone Ranger, references to the industrial age, the origin of animation and the corrupt standardization of both time and steam power are part of the mix.

It’s the job of any western to portray a town mid-birth, a place struggling under the weight of bad men and heavier cowards. With Utah standing in for Texas, and Barry Pepper standing in for the Cavalry (again), Tom Wilkinson threatens to be the God and Master to all of the rails and silver mines of the South West. But this is a story ineptly told from an exhibit at a fair. Tonto, who is now ancient and was never of sound mind, describes the darling prairie rabbits as blood-lusting predators—this is a world too fanciful to be dragged down by anything as crucial as history—this is a world buoyed by faith, and for the faith you give it, it might buoy you right back.

Tonto is a sorta savant, a bent Comanche, and Johnny Depp braids the prowess of Peter O’Toole, the stone face of Buster Keaton and the bad hair of Brett Michaels into the most pitiable strategist since his Pirate of the Caribbean (also directed by Verbinski). Armie Hammer is as stoic as a brick and just as smart—he’s a humble crusader, an ideologue with a gun, but he’s also stubborn, resistant to reason, a slow learner. It’s an odd parable that, in the face of the political evils and the robber barons of the railways we see a pacifist like John Reid (Hammer) take to guns. It’s also a shame to see a principled hero-in-the-making transformed into a dumb hunk. His brother (James Badge Dale), the too-giving lawman, loses his life so the wrong brother can become the right hand of justice—because the law’s been sold out and only vigilantes can uphold the principles the new laws were written to support.

The Lone Ranger is born (or reborn) on a ramshackle tower like the one on which Simon of the Desert perched—he wakes on top of a plateau, signaling wildly, not a savior.

William Tell gets a hyperextended heyday on the world’s longest revival of The Great Train Robbery, complete with many top deck races and slapstick acrobatics. Allegiances swiftly shift and strategies unravel and adapt—the Indians save the day and lose it again but all while Kimosabe wears his white Stetson and Tonto his crow. Depp’s face paint was reportedly inspired by a Setton painting called “I am Crow,” a totemic animal and spirit carrier, Tonto religiously feeds because it’s not dead, “it’s awaiting the return of soul, not same thing.” In the last moments, the crow replaces the storyteller. Dressed in a suit too small, our impaired fake historian walks eternal into the uncharted west, carrying a suitcase, probably full of gags.

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About Sara Vizcarrondo

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Sara Vizcarrondo is a freelance film critic out of San Francisco. She runs Opening Movies at Rottentomatoes, teaches film/media studies at DeAnza college and writes on film for Popdose and The SF Bay Guardian.

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