After reading the almost universal critical condemnation from the United States, my thoughts on The Lone Ranger were “one to miss”. Yet, after reading several positive reviews from UK papers, my interest was piqued, and so on a rainy day, I thought “why not?”
And I’m glad I did.
The Lone Ranger is by far one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in the cinema for a while. It was one of those wonderful experiences when you sit watching the film with a broad grin on your face – a perfect popcorn film. It’s very honest about that fact too; there are no pretentious comments, or grand, sweeping message. All the film asks is that you sit back and enjoy it.
The Lone Ranger was originally a radio series in 1933, and the success of the radio show led to a television series which ran for eight seasons. Thus the Lone Ranger is firmly placed within American popular culture. This adaptation is an origins story; who was the Lone Ranger, and why? With nods to the genre – the entire railroad company will seem familiar to anyone who’s seen Once Upon a Time in the West – it’s fundamentally an old-fashioned Western, with a message of family, friendship and justice at its heart.
In terms of performances, the cast are strong across the board. Armie Hammer as the eponymous Lone Ranger is a handsome hero who can successfully do the slapstick, the wit and the emotional scenes. In a role that could easily be bland, Hammer brings charm and humour. Johnny Depp’s Tonto was also a surprise; the controversy of Depp playing a Comanche Indian was one of the many complaints the film faced during production, but Depp gives a respectful performance throughout, as well as proving his comedic strengths.
William Fichtner’s brutal outlaw is a delight to watch – the make-up and costume department have done a phenomenal job, aiding his performance as a truly nasty villain. Tom Wilkinson and Ruth Wilson are also fantastic, as is Helena Bonham Carter in her small role as a brothel owner with something spectacular under her skirt.
Visually, it’s a delight, with the camera panning across huge scenes of the mid-West – the railroad stretching across empty plains, the two horsemen riding across the lonely desert. As an action film, it is pretty solid. Some of the set pieces are fantastic – both the opening and final train fights are wonderfully constructed, with a strong balance between comedy and tension within these scenes, whilst the pacing is rarely off. Also, it surprised me by being suitably violent for a Western; there are some quite unpleasant scenes for a 12A, which do benefit the film. It may be a Disney adventure film, but like the Spaghetti Westerns of old, the body count is high.
The film is not without its faults, no doubt about it. It is long, clocking in at two and a half hours, and it does not need to be. The flashback narrative could have been removed; the little boy in 1933 is fine as child actors go and the flashbacks provide some great breaking-of-the-fourth-wall moments with the older Tonto, but ultimately aren’t necessary. And some of the jokes are really, really corny.
Yet these complaints aren’t enough to warrant the film the critical panning it’s received in the States. The majority of the American reviews seem to resent the film’s production, rather than the content of the film itself. That seems pretty ridiculous; as if the critics were already determined to dislike it before seeing it. I would suggest that many reviews are negative as the film doesn’t paint American history in a positive light – progress built on the backs of slaves and the blood of the Indians doesn’t align with the iconic Lone Ranger of the post-war era.
I admit that I am a fan of Westerns, which aren’t the most popular of genres. And I admit there’s a possibility my praise is in some way a backlash to the panning the film has received in the States. But I say that The Lone Ranger, though not a great film is a good film and would thoroughly recommend it. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake is needed sometimes, and The Lone Ranger provides it wonderfully.