We were first introduced to the Lone Ranger in the 1930s when it became a radio drama. It expanded into books and a long-running television series. It also spawned four film versions, the most recent a two-hour made for TV movie.
Now we get Gore Verbinski’s collaboration with Johnny Depp in bringing this hero to the big screen in the appropriately titled The Lone Ranger. Depp chose to portray “Tonto”, the Lone Ranger’s sidekick. Not quite such a faithful sidekick as he was in the TV series.
Armie Hammer is “John Reid”, the foppish East Coast lawyer who has come home to be the local district attorney. His brother “Dan Reid” (James Badge Dale) is a Texas Ranger who is waiting in Colby to take custody of “Butch Cavendish” (William Fichtner). John Reid and Cavendish are riding on the same train. Cavendish is in chains and he is to be hanged upon arrival at Colby. There’s an Indian prisoner locked in next to him who turns out to be Tonto. Cavendish’s men attack the train to free their leader.
Soon Dan Reid is pinning the star of a Texas Ranger on his brother and they ride out with other Rangers to recapture Cavendish and take custody of his men. They are led into an ambush and all of the Rangers are shot and seemingly killed. Tonto rescues John Reid and fashions a mask for him to wear. Now the two are off together, but with separate agendas. Can they capture Cavendish? Can they discover who else is involved in Cavendish’s scheme to plunder the land?
If Will Rogers were alive today and watched this, he’d describe it the same way he described a speech at a political convention. After the orator was done going on forever, Rogers famously said “that was the Chinese politician On Too Long.” At two hours and twenty-nine minutes, this film goes on much too long and needed to be trimmed by 20 or 25 minutes.
As an homage to the original character, it’s not bad. Good use is made of iconic images and sounds from the early days of the Lone Ranger, the horse, the hat and the music. The basic theme of a man having to live outside the law in order to ensure that the people receive justice is present. That the character of Tonto needed to be reimagined in order to even attempt to put out a Lone Ranger film in 2013 goes without saying. The question becomes, is the best possible reimagining? Depp’s fetish for quirky characters may have been misplaced here.
The acting is fine, the action loud, ever-present and satisfying. This film is not nearly as bad as most critics are making out, but it isn’t a masterpiece either. Maybe there’s a reason we don’t see very many Westerns anymore. Perhaps their day has passed.