Movie review – The Lone Ranger: Hi-yo, Silver! (Not quite) away!

2013-07-14 14:00

I guess the film makers decided to get the inherent racism of the original stories out there in the open first thing.

A little boy wearing the Lone Ranger’s signature mask wanders into a Wild West exhibition in 1933, which is a carnival attraction. There he gazes at the window displays – there’s a bison, a bear and “a noble savage”.

This guy turns out to be a very old Tonto (Johnny Depp in wrinkles), who encourages the boy to trade his bag of roasted peanuts for the real story of how the Lone Ranger became the Lone Ranger.

Skip back in time to 1869 in frontier country, a young man, John Reid (Armie Hammer), is on his way home to the dusty town he was raised in. Also on the train is the dangerous flesh-eating criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and chained up beside him is Tonto.

When Cavendish’s mates board the train to free their leader, John tries to intervene and instead ends up chained beside Tonto.

In town, John’s brother Dan is getting the Rangers together to go out and find Cavendish, and the local railway man, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), reads them the riot act about bringing the outlaw back for a public hanging.

John decides to go with the posse, having safely locked Tonto up in a cell.

The love interest is provided by Dan’s wife, Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), whom John used to date. Helena Bonham Carter puts her character-acting skills to work as the one-legged madame of the local house of sin.

Depp is pretty funny as Tonto, who seems to be both wise and downright mad in equal parts. Hammer does a good job as the morally unambiguous Reid, whom Tonto attempts to turn into a hero.

Those who remember the masked man who’d rear up on his horse Silver before galloping away to save the day will be pleased to find that the film makers have retained the evocative music that heralded the arrival of the hero and that they have included all the parts of the story, with an origin for each – the white horse, the mask and the reasons Tonto is seemingly so loyal to Reid.

What the film makers seem so very keen to get across is that Tonto is not some loyal servant; he is actually the Lone Ranger’s puppet master. At every opportunity, the idea that Tonto is in charge is driven home.

I don’t have any problems with revisionism to update a story for a new generation. After all, it is just a story and one in need of an update, given its 1950s prejudices. But it would have been much more effective to have played up the pair’s real, equal friendship instead. This would have done away with the racism issue more realistically.

The trouble with “cowboy-and-Indian” films is that they are so very skewed in favour of the cowboys.

It’s really hard to revise the terrible historical truth of what the settlers did to the First Nation’s people in the Americas, and so throughout it feels as though Gore Verbinski and his team are tiptoeing through a minefield of political correctness.

But the film makers do deserve a “hurray” for the opening chase sequence as well as the finale.

I love a good Western, but I wonder if maybe The Lone Ranger – racism aside – is a bit parochial for a generation weaned on big-city boys like Spider-Man, Iron Man and even Zorro, who has a very similar mask but much more flair.

Made for a whopping $250?million (R2.5?billion), Jerry Bruckheimer and his team, who cashed in on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, have overestimated the number of children who want to be cowboys when they can be Spider-Man instead.

Film: The Lone Ranger (Ster-Kinekor)

Director: Gore Verbinski

Featuring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson and Helena Bonham Carter

Rating: 6/10

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