crap i have watched recently #15

lone ranger and silverHi-Yo SPOILERS!  Away!!

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The Lone Ranger (2013): This movie has no idea what it wants to be. Does it want to be a comedy? A tragedy? A buddy flick? An action movie? The answer is “all of the above” and more. What it most definitely is not is a superhero flick, which probably explains why it touches every other base. It has to compete with a lot of hullabaloo.

In its basics, the movie is true to the Lone Ranger canon, at least what I remember of it from the TV show. He’s still a good man who endeavors to save those threatened by outlaws and greedy capitalists. He never shoots to kill, only to wound, and brings his enemies to justice via the legal system. He has a trusty Indian companion, a white horse and white hat, and is mostly lawful good. The closest he gets to the realm of superheroes is the notion that he is a “spirit walker,” a man who has been through death once and thus cannot be killed in battle.

Armie Hammer plays the very earnest John Reid, a young lawyer come home to a small western town to serve as its new district attorney. He doesn’t believe in guns, wears a nice suit, and quotes John Locke. As it so happens a desperate and vicious criminal is being transported to his hanging on the same train. Butch is chained up in the prison car to a wildly painted Indian (Johnny Depp) who passes his time feeding the dead bird on his head. After some hijinks with John, the Indian, and lots of guns switching hands, Butch’s gang breaks him out of the train. The train, with its passenger load full of Presbyterian missionaries and their golden haired children, races out of control toward the town, which also happens to be the literal end of the line. The spectacular train wreck is the first special effects extravaganza of the movie; be assured it is also not the last.

Once John has got himself dusted off a bit we meet the rest of the main cast. He’s formally introduced to Tonto (who he arrests). He’s reunited with his braver and handsomer brother Dan (a Texas Ranger). He makes sad puppy eyes at his brother’s wife Rebecca (who it seems chose his brother over him) and tousles his nephew’s blonde hair. He is thanked by the local railroad baron (who quite clearly has eyes for Rebecca). His brother deputizes him and a posse heads out into the desert to chase down Butch. There is a betrayal and an ambush, and our young hero awakens in a shallow grave with an all white horse pawing at his chest and Tonto telling him he’s now a spirit walker.

From here on in the movie flails around wildly trying to hit a genre it can stick to. As a comedy it has a very few good moments, mostly revolving around the magical horse. Unfortunately, it aims low and much of the humor is slapstick, on the order of Tonto dragging an unconscious John through fresh horse shit. The buddy movie elements are the standard kinds: lots of witty repartee between two men from different worlds who are initially hostile to each other but who eventually find they are brothers under the skin. The action movie bits are actually probably the best if for no other reason than that they are reasonably well done and require no thought. There are thrilling stunts on moving trains, battles in burning buildings, rescues of women and children from dire peril, Indian battles, cavalry advancing across the desert, racing horses, exploding things, trick shooting, and one daring escape after another. When the full strains of the William Tell Overture finally swell gloriously forth and the Lone Ranger and Silver rear up over the saloon sign on their way to save the day, well, it pretty much is a “fuck YEAH!” moment.

Then we come to the parts where the movie wants to be a tragedy and these moments, squeezed as they are between slapstick and cross-dressing jokes, are horrible. The movie feeds us one brutal tragedy after another, some of them quite gruesome. John watches his brother being grotesquely murdered. A decent man is killed and scalped. There is a ruthless attack on an Indian village full of women and children. A later final stand by the Indians against the people who have broken their treaties and framed them as killers turns into a choreographed blood bath. There is even the minor tragedy of Red’s lost life as a dancer. In every case the movie segues almost immediately to a joke or an action sequence and whatever pathos was intended dissipates. Tonto’s own tragedy is merely a plot device, as is the slaughter of apparently the last remaining band of free Comanches. I think we are meant to feel sorrow for a dying world but we (and Tonto) get all of 10 seconds to grieve his loss before the next adventure.

I won’t dwell too long on the horrendous depiction of Indians (the dog in that race belongs to someone else) but I will note that 60 odd years ago the television version of The Lone Ranger actually managed to cast an Indian in the role of Tonto. This movie not so much. (I am fully aware that the role was written for Depp but still.) To its credit though, in among the jokes about flying horses and hokey Indian wisdom the movie manages to insult almost everyone equally. There are precisely two female characters; one is the saintly Rebecca, who gamely tends the family ranch while her husband gallivants around the countryside establishing law and order, and the other is Red (Helena Bonham Carter), a madame with a heart of gold and a loaded ivory leg. These are the only two kinds of women that existed in the West in those days. There is a running gag about a cross-dressing outlaw. The only black character with a speaking part is killed off almost immediately; he dies bravely protecting the white women and children. The only Mexican is a bad guy. The Chinese are just there to build the railroad and to get shot when we need to be reminded how ruthless Butch is. The Indians are clearly labeled “Noble Savages” from the outset. The U.S. Cavalry is sort of accidentally evil, with a Custer wanna-be who thinks he’s doing the right thing until the bad guy points out that he’s been slaughtering innocents.  Then, for some reason, he decides to kill another one.  Everyone who works for the railroad is slimy. The Big Bads are painfully obvious. One is a scarred and bitter cannibal and the other manipulates history and oozes the sort of oily confidence that comes from having four trains cars full of raw silver.  There is a slight twist that is not terribly hard to see coming.

It almost seems pointless to quibble about the little things, but they’ve tended to stick in my head. For one thing the Wendigo (which is consistently mispronounced as “wendingo”) is not a Southwestern Native American thing. It’s a northeastern and Great Lakes Indian thing. There is absolutely no reason a Comanche warrior in Texas would have that beastie in his cultural repertoire. Why did Collins keep insisting that the silver was valueless until they could take it to San Francisco? Nuggets of silver as big as your fist would have been entirely legitimate currency anywhere in the West in those days. How did Red reload her leg? Come to think of it, how did she manage to walk on it at all? Ivory is pretty heavy. Why was Collins drugging Rebecca? Did the filmmakers intend to pay homage to Little Big Man or rip it off? At what point in the development process did adding badly CGI’d carnivorous rabbits to the mix seem like a good idea?

I was never entirely sure where this movie was supposed to be taking place. The place where the railroads joined up was in far northern Utah (a territory in 1869). The movie was filmed in and around Monument Valley, which is on the Utah-Arizona border. The main character is a Texas Ranger and the Texas Rangers don’t appear to have generally operated outside of Texas.  I think the movie takes place in a small town in Texas and not anywhere near Promontory Summit or Monument Valley.  Characters in the movie talk constantly of Indian Territory, which in 1869 was primarily Oklahoma. The Comanche would have conceivably been in most of these places, although probably not northern Utah.  It’s all so confusing!

What this movie really wants to be is (as my friend noted) a “Pirates of the Wild West”, or in balder terms, a new vehicle for Johnny Depp to flaunt his peculiar brand of performance art to the sounds of money raining down from the skies. The Pirates of the Caribbean well has run dry and it’s clear that The Lone Ranger is intended to have sequels.  Unless the movie does far better financially than I think it will, that won’t be happening. I suppose it’s telling that the names of stunt and digital artists fill the entire screen from side to side for several seconds during the end credits; it’s easily the most impressive thing about the film.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on July 9, 2013.

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