By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If I were to win the $434M Mega Power Rich Forever and it didn’t change me for the worse, I’d offer to pay your way to see director Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger,” only because I think you might enjoy the curiosity. Otherwise, I’m quite hesitant to recommend you spend your own money, unless of course you won the $434M Mega Power Rich Forever.
Johnny Depp, who can be found in the thespic compendium under Actors, Phylum: Oddball, herewith indelibly, on big silver screen, indulgently affixes his signature. He brazenly utilizes his version of George W. Trendle and Fran Striker’s legend of The Lone Ranger as an opportunity to propagate his own ideas on truth and equality and, in a hip, 21st Century sort of way, does it justice.
Portraying Tonto, the iconic loyal companion, he festoons the wildly adventurous tale with a spectrum of moral indignation, from Native American rights to the oftentimes shameful collusion between government and overwhelmingly powerful, vested interests. Thus, sometimes, when a scene is overdone, we nonetheless agree that what it had to say certainly needed saying.
Happily, Messrs Verbinski and Depp, each of whom is also listed among the film’s producers, always stop short of tarnishing the fable, no matter how rowdy or determinedly political their permutation rants. If anything, they sanction the goody two shoes nature of Armie Hammer’s title character, poking a bit of fun but all the same emphasizing how truly difficult it is to stand straight amidst humankind’s winds of corruption.
But the movie is a bit long, often slow to make its point, and not terribly concerned with catering to whatever attention deficit its viewers may suffer. Such are the creative spoils of artists whose star accounts for profits measured in billions, especially when they’ve caught on to the notion that their medium can be used in a crusade against moneyed evil, whilst making themselves some good money in the bargain.
Although smartly lifting a rock on a lot of U.S. history, particularly as concerns railroads and Manifest Destiny, there is no sacrilege when it comes to The Lone Ranger. The thought is, as voiced in multifarious ways via Tonto’s often humorous incantations and outlandish pontifications, that grace is ordained by the spirits. The symbol must remain unblemished.
The Founding Fathers referred to it as inalienable rights. Or, as Victor Hugo is credited with saying after first espying parts of the Statue of Liberty being readied in Paris for shipping, “The idea is everything.” Give or take a few creative liberties, these notions are iterated while delivering the tale’s lore in surprisingly faithful order, ensuring that the Lone Ranger rides again, the “William Tell Overture” loudly heralding that inspiring fact.
But the irreversible truth is that many folks don’t care for civics lessons, let alone having them strewn through their bread and circus. So for that side of the aisle Depp and Verbinski frenetically activate an obvious admiration for silent film derring-do, evinced in seemingly endless runaway train action, with an unabashedly mugging Tonto invoking much of what Buster Keaton pioneered. Worked into a dizzying display of Rube Goldberg’s art, there is slugging and shooting aplenty.
And, reaffirming that you can’t have good guys without despicably etched villains, they’re delivered here with a powerfully odious, one-two punch. Tom Wilkinson is creepy nasty as Latham Cole, the railroad executive beyond redemption, linked in an unholy alliance with William Fichtner’s outlaw personified, Butch Cavendish. You don’t have to be an investigative reporter for “The Washington Post” to grok the contemporary allusion.
But whereas we too often feel defenseless against government fat cats who simply can’t lap up enough collusive cream, hope springs eternal for the folks in this metaphoric tale of the Old West. With Tonto as his handler, front man, image maker and spiritual adviser, attorney John Reid, whose brother and fellow Texas Rangers were slaughtered by Butch and his gang, survives his wounds and morphs into the Lone Ranger.
However, while handsome and credible, albeit not quite the strapping presence Clayton Moore embodied in the TV series, this Lone Ranger is upstaged by his sidekick. Mr. Depp, as the brains behind the unalterable goodness Armie Hammer represents, makes no bones about it. Reid may be too good for his own good, and therefore needs the wise and crafty counsel of a disparaged Native American who has made an art of survival.
Tonto informs: “Horse says you are spirit walker: a man who has been to the other side and returned… a man who cannot be killed in battle.” And then, essentially insinuating that sometimes fire must be fought with fire, he advises, “There come a time when good man must wear mask.”
It works. Although, from what I couldn’t help but overhear, most of my colleagues disagree with my assay of “The Lone Ranger.” All of which suggests, there come a time, Kemosabe, when reviewer must be Lone Critic.
“The Lone Ranger,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release directed by Gore Verbinski and stars Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer and Tom Wilkinson. Running time: 149 minutes