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Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Lone Ranger

This latest incarnation of the Masked Man is rooted firmly in the old-fashioned western genre, before it turns the canon on its head. In our politically-correct modern times, the good guys are not necessarily defined as such just because they wear a white Stetson hat or a military uniform. Similarly, not all of the bad guys were “noble savages” defending their “natural habitat.”

This is where we are introduced to Tonto (Johnny Depp), not living in a teepee, but as an exhibit in a San Francisco carnival, circa 1933. His fate is not too far from those of other Native Americans. At this time, all-American athlete and Native American Jim Thorpe was drinking himself from paycheck to paycheck appearing in countless uncredited film appearances as, yes you guessed it, Hollywood’s stereotypical Indian.

Tonto mistakes a young boy in white Stetson and mask for his kemosabe, and begins recounting the legend of the Lone Ranger. And so the story unfolds, in between the occasional feeding of Tonto’s dead crow perched on his head, and pauses where the old Comanche’s eyes stare off to a faraway place and a far away time. 
The place and time are the legendary old west, where good guys seek justice and bad guys are really bad. The legendary good guy here is the Lone Ranger himself. John Reid (Armie Hammer) is introduced as a wet behind the ears easterner who badly needs to learn the ways of the old west. There is some opportunity, soon lost, in his mentoring by his older brother, a Texas Ranger. The younger Reid threatens the bad guys with fisticuffs he learned in law school. Yeah, no one west of the Mississippi in six shooter territory is terribly impressed with his boxing skills. It takes a while - a long while - for him to come around to the ways of the old west. In the end, Reid is finally convinced to seek justice behind a mask and his own gun firing silver bullets.
So who else is on the side of law, order and all that good stuff? Aside from the aforementioned Tonto, there is Silver, the Spirit Horse who is not afraid of heights. At one point, he neighs at our heroes from an impossibly high tree branch. Tonto determines that, “There is something wrong with that horse.”

Tonto should talk; it turns out that his back story has a very dark episode. A good deed backfires and proves disastrous for his village, not to mention his pet crow. It leaves Tonto as a boy with perhaps a case of post-traumatic stress syndrome, ostracism by his tribe, and oh yes, a deep burning desire for justice (revenge).

And who are the bad guys? It appears the answer is not so simple; the villains are a convoluted mix of cowboys, big business greed, and the US government.

You need a diagram to figure out all of the villainous entanglements. The Lone Ranger’s main antagonist is Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a ruthless desperado with cannibalistic tendencies. He literally eats the hearts out of lawmen without potatoes or a side dish. The object of his desire is all of the silver in a mine so thoughtfully presented to him by a young Tonto (see dark episode above).

Cavendish’s silver lode is coveted by big business railroad tycoon Cole (Tom Wilkinson), who is simultaneously uniting both coasts of the United States and severing the lifelines of several Native American cultures. His benevolence towards the Indians in the beginning turns nasty towards the end. Ditto for his business associates. Cavendish’s and Cole’s interests are protected and later abetted by the US Calvary.  (Noooooooooo! Not the US Calvary!)  Traditional Western justice is surely doomed now!

Among the films heroines is Red Harrington (Helena Bonham Carter) who runs the local brothel. There are hints that she is an ex-ballerina, possibly forced into retirement when Cavendish noshed on her leg. I may be reading too much into this. Her backstory is not played out, but her desire for justice/revenge against Cavendish suggests the occurrence of some sort of evil happened between them. Still, she just sports a shapely orthotic that packs quite a kick to it. 

The film has all of the proven western genre conventions, or is that clichés. There are gunfights, cowboy chases, Indian attacks, and more gunfights. An example of one western convention: a rustling of wild birds from their roost is Hollywood’s telltale sign that an Indian attack is imminent (see The Searchers, et al). It’s used here too when our other heroine, Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson), spouse of the Lone Ranger’s brother, valiantly fights the invaders who (spoiler alert) are not necessarily Indians. She loses the fight and, with her son, is taken hostage briefly further into Searchers territory.

The Lone Ranger legend has its own share of conventions. His good guy white Stetson, the silver bullets, and (of course) Rossini’s William Tell Overture just has to appear on the soundtrack at the film’s climatic railroad chase. Our hero even works in his trademark, “Hi Ho, Silver, Away!” At this point, Tonto chastises kemosabe for his over-the-top theatrics with one of the film's funniest punch lines.

The Lone Ranger (the movie) is a good history of the old west’s complicated interpersonal relationships between old world cultures and new world ideals encroaching on it. As entertainment, it is a rollicking, loud great time. It is beautifully photographed in Monument Valley (among other locations) and is richly detailed with other old west icons like buffalo and saloons. Too bad there won’t be a sequel: early box office returns and mixed reviews will doom this latest attempt by Johnny Depp to start a new franchise.

Alas, it may be time to return to The Pirates of the Caribbean

(Thank you for reading. Ride on, kemosabe, ride on!)


Blogger Harpers Keeper said...

Thanks for the review. I confess I have had no interest in seeing this; mostly because I can't tell from the trailers I've seen whether it is supposed to be the story of the Lone Ranger or a parody of the Lone Ranger. Perhaps I'll give it a peek after all

July 15, 2013 at 11:31 PM  

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