Sunday, July 7, 2013

Wild West: The Lone Ranger

If you like Westerns, you can’t help but like at least the first third of Disney/Bruckheimer’s The Lone Ranger, directed by Gore Verbinski. The splendid location shots of Monument Valley are a joy to behold. You can easily pick out backgrounds used in The Searchers. The film starts with a train coming into town, carrying Butch Cavendish (William Fitchner), a very bad bad guy who has a hankering for human flesh. The Texas Rangers, led by Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), are there to conduct Cavendish to justice, but a bunch of bad guys are there to help him break out. The entertaining opening sequence involves an escape, a pursuit, and a train wreck with Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the the Lone Ranger-to-be trying to escape the speeding train chained together, employing routines reminiscent of the antics of Chaplin and Keaton.

Throughout the first third of the film, I enjoyed the allusions to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, High Noon, and Spaghetti Westerns in general. The opening train wreck sequence involves members of a temperance league singing “Shall We Gather at the River” as the bad guys start shooting – a nice reference to The Wild Bunch. In addition, long shots like the one above provide the kind of detailed, panoramic action we expect from Westerns.

So, yes, I really enjoyed The Lone Ranger. The middle third of the film wanders, sags, and slows down. I could have done without the whole sequence involving Helena Bonham Carter, looking like she didn't bother changing costumes and makeup coming off the set of Les Misérables, here as a whorehouse madam (big surprise!) with an ivory leg. But this middle third of the film includes my favorite sequence, evoking many a Western in which Indians attack the vulnerable homestead. Here it starts as Rebecca Reid (Ruth Wilson) notices threatening signs: a single Indian on the top of a ridge, birds flying up from the brush into an ominous twilight sky.

After its disjointed middle, the film redeems itself with a spectacular climactic sequence involving the William Tell Overture, two runaway trains, and many clever stunts taking place on the two trains as the Lone Ranger and Tonto fight the bad guys and rescue Rebecca and her son. I love Tonto’s ladder trick. Throughout the film, Johnny Depp is odd and taciturn as only Depp can be, and he made me laugh a number of times.

Unlike Man of Steel or Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger is a summer blockbuster I would gladly see again. Critics don’t seem to like The Lone Ranger, but I hope it does well at the box office. I’d hate for it to spell yet another end to my favorite genre.

Early in the movie, Dan Reid and his Texas Ranger posse stop on a ridge overlooking a wide valley between red rock cliffs. Greenhorn John Reid wonders what the delay is. Dan explains that they fear an ambush because the canyon is open and affords little cover (even though, when the ambush occurs, there seems to be plenty of cover). There is the wide, long shot of the colorful canyon. There is the fear of ambush that you know this widescreen canyon holds. It is a classic Western moment.

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