Director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp have conspired to deliver a wildly inventive take on the Western which simultaneously honours the traditional hallmarks of the genre while cleverly and irreverently tweaking its foibles as well. Brimming with witty dialogue, colourful characters and a richly realised world, the result is an impressive and entertaining triumph. It’s called “Rango”.
Last year’s “The Lone Ranger” isn’t quite so successful, but like its similarly maligned stable mate “John Carter” it’s nowhere near as bad as the American reviews would have you believe.
The story, effectively, is the origin of The Lone Ranger and, along the way manages to throw in the origin of Tonto as well. All the expected ingredients are here: ruthless tycoons, complicit army officers, mercenary outlaws and noble Comanche Indians plus a damsel in distress and a sassy brothel madam to boot.
Contrary to my expectations, Depp does more than just serve us some warmed up Jack Sparrow leftovers and imbues Tonto with some quirky and a distinct personality while still being recognisably a Johnny Depp CharacterTM. There may soon come a time when Depp can be accused of completely phoning it in but “The Lone Ranger” is not it. Armie Hammer is adequately vanilla as the eponymous hero, delivering a Lone Ranger who does not disappoint in the lantern-jawed handsomeness stakes but feels a little short changed in the charisma and presence department. The film is hampered by the lack of screen chemistry between Depp and Hammer, and in turn, the film repays them by portraying both of them as bumbling idiots too often, undercutting the heroism.
The rest of the cast acquit themselves well: Helena Bonham Carter as the ivory-legged (not a euphemism) brothel madam Red Harrington, William Fichtner as ruthless outlaw Butch Cavendish and Tom Wilkinson as Latham Cole, the unscrupulous Railroad Tycoon are all enjoyable but Ruth Wilson’s sullen turn as perennially scowling Rebecca does little to endear her as the love interest for our hero.
The only sense you get of the production difficulties which plagues this picture is that nobody seems to be having any fun making it and that earnest need to deliver the picture bleeds into the finished product, robbing it of a sense of swashbuckling joie de vivre that this kind of movie sorely needs. It’s also saddled with a messy and awkward narrative structure, framed by a 1933 fairground where the story is told in flashback to a young boy by a wizened old Tonto. The problem this creates is that the story itself contains flashbacks and you are also confronted by the problem of relating events for which the character of Tonto was not present. I get that this is meant to feed into the meta-joke of Tonto being an ‘unreliable narrator’ but when your film runs to a bloated two hours twenty minutes, removing the framing device which adds little to the story should be a no brainer.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The film looks fantastic and Verbinski hasn’t lost his visual flair nor his knack for action. The first forty minutes or so deliver a solid, entertaining Western and while the film loses its way a little and meanders for the next hour, the last half an hour delivers some of the best action to grace the big screen in the whole of 2013. The final train sequence is a Buster Keaton-esque joy of rollicking, rail-rattling thrills, spills and stand-out stunts where the film’s preference for practical stunt work really pays dividends.
It’s an easy movie to be snarky about (more ‘Ho-Hum, Silver!’ than ‘Hi-yo, Silver!’ LOLZ) but it does boast great production values, good performances and, when it’s not dawdling, some cracking action sequences. Is it worth the hype? No. Is it worth all the hate? Not even a little.