The Lone Ranger
by Hope Madden
Back in 1995, I watched Johnny Depp in a Western of sorts that paired a supposedly dead white man with an outcast Indian on a journey through the wild west. There were trains and bad men. Iggy Pop co-starred. I’m not sure what else a person could want in a film.
This was Jim Jarmusch’s wondrous Dead Man, and I was reminded of the film repeatedly as I watched its super-mainstream Disney counterpart The Lone Ranger. In case you’ve missed the typhoon of advertising, Depp plays Tonto to Armie Hammer’s masked do-gooder.
Iggy Pop is nowhere to be seen. Pity.
The handsome pair (although one is caked in mud the entire running time – if it’s not giant teeth or Eddie Munster make up it’s mud with this one) are flung together quite against either’s will, but a shared desire to bring down Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) binds them.
This is the Lone Ranger’s origin story, told mostly for laughs, but director Gore Verbinski and his team of writers hope to stir a bit of historical context into the mix.
If you’re going to resurrect the culturally insensitive figure of Tonto for a modern film, it’ll be important to address the racism of the time head on. But, if you’re bringing the Lone Ranger back to life, clip-clopping action and fun are requirements. How to balance?
Well, for the fun and excitement, Verbinski reteams with the writers of his other Depp adventures, the Pirates of the Carribbean franchise (Ted Elliott and Terry Rosio). Indeed, The Lone Ranger has far too much in common with Verbinski’s Pirates series – down to one sparsely blond outlaw sporting a parasol.
For the serious underpinnings of genocide – a tough topic for a family adventure film – Verbinski nabbed Justin Haythe, who’s penned two pretentious dramas (The Clearing, Revolutionary Road) and a Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson film (Snitch).
The socio-political context is mishandled, is what I’m saying, and the drama feels wildly out of place in a film that puts a hat-wearing horse on a tree limb.
The tonal mishmash hampers everything about the film. In fact, though he tried for a full 2 ½ hours (good lord, Verbinski, give it a break!), the director simply cannot find an acceptable tone. Depp and Hammer generate an immediately likeable odd couple chemistry, buoyed immeasurably by Fichtner’s gleefully unseemly bad guy, but the movie remains a slapped together mess.
Plus, no Iggy Pop.