Say what you like about The Lone Ranger, but it’s a bold, brassy risk in the midst of a blockbuster culture that it feels far removed from. Enormously expensive to make, the beauty here is that you can tell, for the right reasons. The landscapes look amazing, the production design is exquisite, the action sequences feel real and tangible, and the money spent on enormous trains and practical work is clear to see. There are moments when computer effects come in and take the sheen off it a little, but those are far from in the majority. There are lots of problems with The Lone Ranger, which we’ll come to, but sheer ambition is not one of them.
The film is based loosely on the television series of the same name, and this take on the story casts Armie Hammer as the title character, with Johnny Depp taking on the role of Tonto. It’s surprise casting perhaps, with Depp to a degree the more obvious leading man. Yet his turn as Tonto is a strong one, frequently funny, and drawing on silent comedy stars for some good, solid laughs.
Hammer, in truth, fares less well. His character is functional and predictable rather than brilliant and magnetic. For the title role, it’s the least interestingly written, and Hammer has to do battle with that for much of the film – although he does inject a couple of light moments well. Faring a lot better though is the supporting cast of The Lone Ranger, and they deserve credit. The film builds in quality time for the likes of Ruth Wilson, Tom Wilkinson and a nasty, villainous William Fichtner (who gets the a heart-eating moment all to himself) – all excellent – to breathe. The problem? It leaves even more room on top of that, way too much, and there are expanses in the running time when things relax far too much. This is, to a degree, part and parcel of the western, but then The Lone Ranger is trying to be a big action blockbuster too. Something has to give, and it does.
That said, there are lots of moments here where director Gore Verbinski has clearly immaculately planned some excellent work. You’ll be hard pushed to see too many action moments this year to better the rousing excitement of the big chase at the end, and thanks in part to a Hans Zimmer-reworking of The William Tell Overture, it’s a sequence that stands out. Inevitably though, you’ll end up wishing the film has focused more on moments like that, and cutting out some of the padding which really drags The Lone Ranger down.
Because there’s no way around it: this is a long film, that uncomfortably outstays its welcome by a good 20 minutes at least, probably more. To the layman’s eyes, the key contributor is a wraparound story involving Tonto, that we can’t imagine someone didn’t suggest cutting at some point. It’s not that it’s bad, it just feels like a narrative luxury the film just can’t afford. And whilst The Lone Ranger finds welcome time for silences and stillness, and commendably so, there are still moments throughout that feel like they could and should have been trimmed.
Yet, even while it’d test the patience of the most ardent fan of the western, The Lone Ranger‘s merits deserve it a fairer response than the one – as it’s widely reported – it’s been met with. Even before the end credits, it’s clear that we won’t get a blockbuster like this again for a long, long time, nor will anyone throw so much money at a western for a lot of years. That’s not enough to warrant the ticket price, mind, but the hour and a half where The Lone Ranger really works certainly is.
Beautiful to look at, occasionally thrilling to watch, and with a sense that you neither know what’s necessarily around the next corner, nor how long it’ll take to get there, The Lone Ranger is, by turns, a brilliant, bewildering, blockbuster mess. But heck: you get your money’s worth. And a bit of change.
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