By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette — In the British magazine, “Total Film,” actor Johnny Depp, who stars as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger,” the maniacally violent new version of the western adventure about a masked man and his Indian companion, is quoted from an interview he gave to promote the movie:
He says: “Since cinema has been around, Native Americans have been treated very poorly by Hollywood. What I wanted to do was play Tonto not as a sidekick — like, ‘Go fetch a soda for me, boy’ — but as a warrior with integrity and dignity. It's my small sliver of a contribution to try to right the wrongs of the past.”
He and director Gore Verbinski may actually believe that by framing their film around the story of Tonto, a Comanche, they have created something commendable. The truth is that the over-reaching actor and the blood-obsessed director have done a disservice not only to Native Americans, but also to the iconic cultural status of the character of the Lone Ranger, a masked man helping western folks abused by villains such as bank managers and cattle rustlers.
Where is the honor to Native Americans by having Depp prance around like a fool with a dead crow on his head, spouting inanities with a smirk and a leer? This depiction plays to the tiresome stereotype that Indians are always messing with your mind. Where is the honor when hundreds of Native Americans are slaughtered with a Gatling gun by U.S. government troops? Depp claims he has some Cherokee blood in him, as if that gives him license to play yet another buffoonish screen Indian. He degrades the mythology of tribes and their culture, as well as the mythology of the Lone Ranger.
In 1933, an elderly Tonto is a sideshow attraction in a carnival. He tells a young boy about his life and the masked man who rode a white stallion. Through some of the most convoluted memory devices yet concocted by screenwriters (three are credited, but you can be sure Depp and Verbinski contributed), we go back in time to find Eastern-educated lawyer John Reid donning a mask and riding his horse Silver in order to defeat Butch Cavendish, a grotesque villain who murdered his Texas Ranger brother. Before the mask, there are references to the philosophy of John Locke, an explanation as to why Tonto is a prisoner on a train, and a bank robbery.
Buffalo’s William Fichtner plays the evil Cavendish with a mouth distorted by scars. When he talks, it sounds as if he’s speaking a bizarre language. This psychopathic outlaw is so cruel that after he kills Reid’s brother, he cuts out his heart and eats it. For the price of a ticket, you get to experience this along with Cavendish’s delight.
Keep your children away from this movie. Seriously, keep them away.
There is a storyline about a corrupt railroad baron (Tom Wilkinson). Because of the production mindset with which we’re dealing, we also have the Lone Ranger’s confusion at finding his dead brother’s wife attractive. Helena Bonham Carter then shows up as a whore with a peg-leg in which she hides a shotgun. In Depp and Verbinski’s vision, Indians are victims and clowns, and women are icons of immorality.
The Lone Ranger built its reputation on radio and in the innocent world of 1950s American television, so it’s easy to believe that people in the Old West might not recognize John Reid behind his Lone Ranger mask, all gussied up with a big white hat, wearing cowboy boots, and slinging a gun. However in the film, everyone is dumber than hay. Lawyer Reid is probably the best-looking man ever seen in Frontierland. He (and the Lone Ranger) are blandly acted by 6’5” Armie Hammer. Unrecognizable? Hardly. If they don’t remember his handsome face, they should certainly recall his boring speaking voice.
As the movie lumbers along haphazardly, with inconsistent story threads unraveling, Depp’s Tonto practically turns into comic actor Buster Keaton. The train material is influenced by Keaton’s “The General.” By the time our hero has his head pulled through horse manure, you may well be ready to flee the theater. The 149-minute saga feels like being dragged through sagebrush for a month. And how did Monument Valley end up in Texas?
The demented, film-closing action set-piece involves railway chaos. There’s finally a smattering of Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” the music long-associated with the Lone Ranger.
Every time you hear someone ask the Lone Ranger “what’s with the mask,” you realize that Depp and Verbinski and the Disney Company, whose vile failure of a movie this is, were never serious about their intentions. At times tedious, often frenzied for no reason, “The Lone Ranger” is a sick joke. Nasty, brutish, and hallucinatory.Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.