Some viewers and reviewers have expressed disappointment with Johnny Depp’s latest starrer, “The Lone Ranger,” in which he plays an updated version of the masked lawman’s Native American sidekick, Tonto. We beg to differ, because we find enough aspects of the cowboy flick to like.
Yes, we agree that Tonto’s idiosyncratically harsh “tribal” make-up can be off-putting, and we note that the film is one of Depp’s few starrers that have done relatively poorly at the tills.
But, in our view, the production’s daringly unflinching depiction of the massacre of Indians by some of those who pretended to sign peace pacts with them negates some critics’ view that the production perpetuates now discredited stereotypes depicting Native Americans as the white man’s stupid stooge.
To his credit, Depp bothered to steep himself in Indian tradition and cultural traits before shooting this film, and the research shows in his “informed” portrayal.
Tonto is no mumbling, subservient “sidekick” in this new retelling of the Lone Ranger legend—in fact, he’s presented as the masked lawman’s mentor in the tough challenge of survival in the wild, wild west.
Even more pointedly, Depp’s character dominates the movie so much that Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger ends up as his “sidekick”—well, in a manner of speaking.
Given Depp’s superstar status in the industry, Hammer really didn’t stand a chance from the get-go—despite the fact that he’s the one officially playing the movie’s titular character.
Beyond the “Depp factor,” another aspect of the movie that we like is its ability to mount difficult action scenes, like the slam-bang, gee-whiz cowboy films of yore.
Especially impressive in conceptualization and execution are the production’s many chase and fight scenes that involve filming on trains as they’re chugging fast and furiously across some of the most amazingly dramatic vistas ever caught on film.
Some of those action highlights are so inventive that they call to mind silent film stars’ “impossible” feats, like Buster Keaton in an iconic screen comedy, performing death-defying acrobatics on a long flagpole that threatens to crack and fall off a tall skyscraper!
It’s too bad that the film gets bogged down in quixotically confounding ethnic and tribal trivia that don’t really come to bear on its main themes and concerns.
Still, the worst cinematic “sin” that we can accuse Depp of committing is his penchant for having a lark at occasionally confused and confounded viewers’ expense.
Filmmaker Gore Verbinski should be credited for coming up with a colorful gallery of villains, both obvious and treacherously hidden, who opportunistically enriched themselves during the period of westward expansion in the United States.
Keeping track of all these nefarious critters is no walk in the park, but the characters are so clearly depicted that viewers are able to rise to the occasion.
Finally, some lessons hopefully learned from this less than triumphant cinematic experience: Even superstars like Johnny Depp shouldn’t confound their fans with off-putting make-up, and hope to get away with it. Fun’s fun, but there’s a story to be told, so enough of the cute and clever flights of fancy—and, get on with it!