July 02--How subversive of Disney to release during the Fourth of July holiday a comedy action film that is in part about the American Indian genocide.
Those who go to "The Lone Ranger" because it stars Johnny Depp will come away satisfied by a performance that reminds them of his "Pirates of the Caribbean" character. And the film contains elements -- silver bullet and "William Tell Overture" included -- familiar from the TV series and, before that, radio show.
A non-native actor portraying an Indian character can be seen as insensitive. But Depp, who wears his principles on his sleeve, is incapable of a politically incorrect Tonto, one of the most famous Indians in Western mythology and whose portrayal in the 1950s by Jay Silverheels, a Canadian Mohawk, reflected the stereotypes of the day.
The new film, which opens Wednesday, portrays the Indian genocide as linked to the expansion of the railroad and greed of the white man. Both ruin the lives of Tonto, whose village is destroyed, and the title character played by Armie Hammer, whose brother is killed.
The film does not attempt historical accuracy. Depp's eccentric portrait of Tonto, who wears a dead crow on his head, is drawn from a contemporary representation as imagined by a non-native artist. But the massacre scenes feel true to actual events, and certain rituals appear authentic. (The film had a Comanche adviser and was partly filmed in the Navajo Nation.)
But Tonto's foolish side is reminiscent of Jack Sparrow, and his somber deadpan is punctured by Depp's winking performance. Even straight-man Hammer, who played the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network," pulls a few gags out of his oversized white hat in Dudley Do-Right fashion.
The story involves a corrupt railroad magnate played by Tom Wilkinson, a cannibalistic outlaw played by William Fitchner, and the discovery of a silver mine on Indian land.
While the railroad that runs through the story represents the height of turn-of-the-century technology and innovation, the stunt-filled action pieces set aboard and atop moving trains are as old as silent film, although they are now achieved digitally.
The story hangs on a trippy existential frame -- a now-aged Tonto appears at a Wild West sideshow to tell the story to a young kid wearing a Lone Ranger mask -- and also has moments of magical realism, mostly involving Silver, a horse with reindeer-like abilities.
Other than his work with Tim Burton, Depp's most successful collaboration has been with this film's director, Gore Verbinski, and its producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, on the "Pirates" films, the fifth of which is due in 2015.
They are a tightly-knit ensemble who know one another's best moves. And -- as they did in the first "Pirates" film, which was based on a theme-park ride -- they manage to turn an ill-advised project into a surprisingly entertaining film.
Keep up with the summer movie season on Dudek's blog, The Dudek Abides: www.jsonline.com/dudek.
The Lone Ranger???
Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, William Fichtner, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Tom Wilkinson
Behind the scenes: Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski. Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Directed by Gore Verbinski.
Rated: PG-13; bawdy humor, often very intense violence
Approximate running time: 149 minutes
Movie times and details
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