Hi-yo, stinker

The Lone Ranger: WTF happened to Johnny Depp's career?

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Put a bird on it: Tonto (Johnny Depp) confers with the Lone Ranger's horse, Silver.

FILM Pop-culture historians who study 2005's top movies will remember Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the so-so action flick that birthed Brangelina; Batman Begins, which ushered in a moodier flavor of superhero; and Tim Burton's shrill Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

That last title is of particular interest lately. Not only did Charlie provide grim confirmation that a post-Planet of the Apes (2001) Tim Burton had squandered whatever goodwill he'd built up a decade prior with films like Ed Wood (1994) and Edward Scissorhands (1990), it also telegraphed to the world that Johnny Depp — previously a highly intriguing actor, someone whose cool cred was never in question — was capable of sucking. Hard.

In the years since 2005, Depp hasn't done much to stamp out those initial flickers of doubt. If anything, he's fanned 'em into a bonfire. His involvement in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (which is plodding toward a fifth installment) has taken up most of his schedule, though he's always willing to don a wacky wig whenever Burton needs him (2007's Sweeney Todd; 2010's Alice in Wonderland; 2012's Dark Shadows). The rest of his post-2005 credits are a mixed bag, mostly best forgotten (ahem, 2010's The Tourist), though one does stand out for positive reasons: 2011's animated Rango, a cleverly-scripted tale that reunited Depp with Gore Verbinski, who helmed the first three Pirates movies.

The pair returns to Rango's Wild West milieu for The Lone Ranger; certainly there'll be no Oscars handed out this time, though Razzies seem inevitable. The biggest strike against The Lone Ranger is one you'll read about in every review: it's just a teeny bit racist. The casting of the once and future Cap'n Sparrow — who apparently has a blank check at Disney to do any zany thing he wants — as a Native American given to "hey-ya" chants and dead-bird hats is very suspect. Some (white) people might be willing to give this a pass, because it's always been part of Depp's celebrity mythology that he's part Indian. I mean, he totally has a Cherokee warrior inked on his bicep, just below "Wino Forever"!

Mmm-hmm. Let's go to the source, shall we? Speaking of his heritage in a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Depp mustered the following: "I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line. My great grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek."

Sounds kinda sketchy, JD. The actor who played Tonto on TV may have been born Harold J. Smith ("Jay Silverheels" was his nom de screen), but he was also raised on Canada's Six Nations reserve and was the son of a Mohawk tribal chief. So The Lone Ranger TV series, which ran from 1949 to 1957 — and had its share of racial-insensitivity and stereotype-perpetuating issues — was able to cast an actual indigenous person to play Tonto, but 2013's The Lone Ranger, which elevates Tonto from sidekick to narrator and de facto main character, was not.

In fact, it's not too far-fetched to assume that the casting of Depp (also credited as an executive producer) is the only reason this Lone Ranger exists. Clearly, he really wanted to play Tonto, and Depp has a way of making his performance the most important thing about whatever film he's in. Were audiences really screaming out for The Lone Ranger, a rather literal big-screen take on a 1950s TV show with some heavily CG'd train chases added in? Could not $250 million, the film's reported budget, have been better spent doing something ... anything ... else?

Comments

To have white people around to tell us what's offensive to Indians.

Posted by Chromefields on Jul. 08, 2013 @ 8:10 am

“Do you want the truth Kemosabe?”
“I seek Justice Tonto and Justice can only be found when the truth is known.”
These are not lines from the film but my own. I write them because despite the myriad of reviews about this film I fear the truth has not been told, and without the truth true justice cannot be given to the film. I hope, with the reader’s indulgence I can provide the truth. Of course my comments will be subjective, but I will be honest in explanation of from where they come .
First and foremost I am a film fan. I have been for 50 years since the time my father allowed me to accompany him to the projection room at a small town cinema in Wales where he worked as a projectionist. I am also a massive fan of the Lone Ranger. I remember watching him on Saturday afternoons in my grandmother’s house. I was taken in by his steadfast morality and bravery. He taught me many lessons on what was right and wrong and challenged me to take the path of good in my childhood and adolescence. So I write both as a film fan and a fan of the Lone Ranger.
Since over 25 years ago, when it was reported in the Daily Mirror that a new Lone Ranger film was going to be made and directed by John Landis (what happened to that project?) I have been waiting for the Lone Ranger to hit the big screen. Another production, The Legend of the Lone Ranger starring Klinton Spilsbury was mad., Despite criticism from many, this movie portrayed the legend well, but overall it was not a superb film.
I was overjoyed when this new movie starring Armie Hammer as the Ranger eventually came to fruition but was so dismayed with the poor critical reviews which seem obviously the reason why the film flopped in the USA. I feel somewhat dismayed that the public were unable to make their own mind up instead of relying on faceless biased reviews.
Go and see the film. Didn’t make that clear? GO AND SEE IT.
I am spelling it out because so many of the critiques have been written in such a negative fashion from the outset. There was so much dissent that by the time something vaguely positive was mentioned, I guess most readers would have given up.
One of the criticisms is that the film at two and a half hours duration is far too long. Idisagree. Are the critics suggesting that the attention span of the film goer is so short that they would not last the duration of the film? The pace of the movie is such that when it ended I was barely aware that 147 minutes had passed. Do the critics think that film audience are so limited in intelligence that we can only pay attention for an hour and a half? The Lone Ranger is not too long. You will be thrilled. You will be engrossed. The story telling is engaging, the photography is excellent and the soundtrack superb.
Critics are eager to point out that there is much violence in the film. This censure alone may be enough to put off parents taking their children to see it. There is a lot of shooting in it (what classic western doesn’t have that?) but there is very little blood. Much of the violence is by implication and is not graphic. Even the much derided cannibal scene is tastefully handled (no pun intended). The action is covert – enough to indicate the horrific act to the adult viewer but not so overt to make it clear to the younger audience. The film illustrates the violent times of the Wild West as it is an inherent part of the story and to does it in a way that allows the film to be suitable to be seen by the whole family.
The Lone Ranger film has been has been judged as a film that clumsily attempts to incorporate too many styles in an effort to satisfy many expectations and in an endeavour to do so provided an untidy mishmash of unfocussed storytelling. See the film for yourself, immerse yourself in it and it is my guess that you will not agree. The very difficult task of producing a film to satisfy a family audience has been successfully achieved with a capable balance of humour, heroism, relationships, honour, morality and downright excitement. The film does not lose its way. It show a violent and corrupt time in early American history and uses humour to lighten the tone. It does this competently.
One of the most annoying criticisms I have read is that the film includes too many scenes/ideas copied from other classic westerns. What of the phrase – Imitation is the best form of flattery? References are made to previously released westerns , even Soldier Blue ,( the critics missed that one), but this re-use of ideas is surely a great tribute to a great genre, and I guess many were done tongue in cheek. What must be remembered too is that the Lone Ranger was originally a show for children. By incorporating ideas from these classic westerns it helps bring the character into the adult world.
If you have no preconceptions of the Lone Ranger, or you are not of my age and a great fan from the 50s and 60s you will be totally taken in by this film and will be thoroughly entertained. As a film with the intention to entertain the whole family I award it 5 stars out of 5. Part 2 follows:
To the reader, thank you for your indulgence so far. I would like to end by offering my opinion of the film from the perspective of a childhood fan of the title character and also to offer a very personal view of why the film was berated so much by the critics. I believe that Johnny Depp’s apparent arrogance towards the title’s character in the planning stage and production alienated him from the critics. Rightly he wanted to portray Tonto in a more intelligent respectful way than Native American Indians were customarily played in earlier western movies. His desire to do this was marred by his lack of respect for the character of the Lone Ranger. If what I have read is correct, in the planning stage it appears that he even considered the Lone Ranger as somewhat of a fool with Tonto being the superior individual. This is not equality. The Lone Ranger Creed declares, “ That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.”
When I learned that a new Lone Ranger film was being considered I wanted to see a Lone Ranger and Tonto film, not a Johnny Depp star vehicle in which he plays a character called Tonto in a film called the Lone Ranger. Throughout the planning and production all the hype seemed to be about Depp and not the Lone Ranger. Some critics, may have been disappointed by Depp’s lack of reverence to this legendry hero whilst giving excessive attention given to his own self importance.
Another reason for the poor reviews was in my opinion the uninteresting early previews of the film. Trailers 3 and 4 however did get my attention and as I began to learn more about its production I decided that the film certainly deserved a viewing.
Despite my earlier comments on Mr. Depp I am very pleased to concede that his acting in his portrayal of Tonto was excellent. Comic timing was superb and soon into the film I began to believe that he was Tonto. Even his unusual headgear soon integrated into his character and became unobtrusive. The reason for it is explained in the film.
Armie Hammer does a reasonable job playing the Ranger and I would be happy seeing him, more maturely taking on the role again. He is tall and handsome but his looks seem too boyish and he does not command the screen presence the Ranger needs. There was something about his characterization that was missing – an earnestness perhaps? We all need a hero in our lives. The Lone Ranger is mine, but sadly Armie Hammer’s portrayal does not quite live up to my expectations.
Most of the Lone Ranger’s trademarks feature in the movie – the silver bullets, black mask, white hat and the magnificent horse Silver. Even Tonto’s horse Scout makes an appearance but not until the very end of the film. The Ranger’s revised clothing works and after a while I stopped mourning the absence of the blue shirt and trousers synonymous with the Ranger of the comic books and small screen.
If you are a Lone Ranger fan and you go to the cinema expecting to see the character of previous films and television you may be disappointed. If you go with an open mind and allow yourself to absorb in this new interpretation you will be entertained and satisfied. As the film reaches its climax and the Lone Ranger appears on his fiery horse in a cloud of dust (smoke more accurately in this film) to the rousing sound of the William Tell Overture I guarantee that you will be transported back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. With a hearty cry of Hi-Yo Silver the Lone Ranger rides again.
I award 4 stars out of 5 for this interpretation.
Help save the Lone Ranger. Go and see this film.
PD.
Endnote: At the very end of the film the question is asked – Did the Lone Ranger really exist? I know the answer and I know his identity. He was of course........Clayton Moore.

Posted by Guest Paul Davies on Aug. 15, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

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