18 August 2013

Review: The Lone Ranger

(Dir: Gore Verbinski, 2013)

It would be impossible to write a review of The Lone Ranger without making mention of the mauling its received in the media, as well as the ludicrous reactionary comments made by the filmmakers [here] in response to the dire box office performance. If ever it seemed like the media wanted a film to fail, this was it. The reasons behind this keen knife-sharpening are mystifying, yet it's an attitude that seems to permeate large swathes of the media, who seem to foam at the mouths in anticipation of failure. How many times this summer have we read excited stories about box office bombs - After Earth, Pacific Rim, The Hangover Part III etc, or about films expected to be bombs. The media seemed pretty determined to highlight the plethora of issues that World War Z had getting made and reacted in surprise when lo and behold it did decent business, because you know, a troubled shoot and reshoots automatically equate to a rubbish film (look at how Apocalypse Now, Jaws and The Shining turned out after all). Why this desire to revel in failure? Whilst writing this I came across a ridiculous "feature" on Yahoo! Australia [here] highlighting the biggest box office bombs of the year, including The Bling Ring - a film with a budget of $8m that has made just short of $6m at the box office. A small independent film that's not pretending to be anything more - one of the biggest box office bombs of the year huh Yahoo? Get a fucking grip.

So what of those comments by Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer? It's understandable they're defensive about the film, they've put a huge amount of time and effort into making it, but their righteous statement of its quality and how it'll be perceived differently in time seem blind. More worrying is their outright laying the blame for its failure at the critics door. Firstly, are they deluded enough to believe that critics play such a pivotal role in the decision-making process today? Yes, last century the opinion of critics proved a true arbiter of influence, but times move on and the public now has access to all the information they might need wherever they are. They can know everything about a film, watch it's five different trailers ad infinitum, have seen every leaked on-set photo, as well as know what their friends think about it all with the click of a button. These comments willfully ignore the fact that the world has changed and there are now other factors at play in opinion-forming. And with marketing activity now regularly starting so far out from release, including the media's excessive coverage of such big releases, it's not hard to imagine a bit of fatigue from audiences when the film does eventually get released. This can only impact the immediacy one must feel to see a film.

But regardless of all that, The Lone Ranger is still fighting something of an uphill battle right from the get go. Disney's decision to invest a reported and not inconsiderable $215m in the film was one hell of a gamble. Western's seem to be one of the only remaining genre poisons at the box office now (although this summer also seems to sadly suggest original sci-fi too). Cowboys & Aliens didn't do well last year, barely scraping it's way to $100m, whilst True Grit produced an exceptional $171m, but of course that was a Coen Brothers film aimed squarely at adults with the benefit of Oscar and awards recognition. Both The Lone Ranger and Cowboys and Aliens were aimed a lot younger, a considerable struggle when today's younger generation have moved on a long way from Westerns (for better or worse), seeing them as "old" and second rate in terms of the high-tech action they're used too. Yet Disney clearly approached this with the logic that pirates used to be box office anathema and we of course know what happened when Johnny Depp donned a ton of make-up, put on a stupid accent and climbed aboard a galleon. Literal box office gold. Perhaps not unreasonable then to believe that he could make it happen again?

Except Depp is one of the primary failings of The Lone Ranger. He's not necessarily miscast, but his tendency to overplay these sorts of roles works against the character. It just feels like Depp pulling the same schtick yet again and it's frequently difficult to divorce the man wearing the make-up from the character, particularly when there's moments of cheeky comedy or a strange selfishness that feels like it's playing up to the camera. Tonto is the most interesting character here - he has a curious past and a massive weight on his shoulders, but we have to put up with the annoying Deppish character traits that obfuscate this until the plot demands its revelation later on. Hammer's character, the Lone Ranger John Reid himself, is paper-thin, but he perhaps doesn't need to offer anything more than a classic heroism and a rote desire for revenge. Hammer is well cast, exuding a dashing quality that feels very rooted in the type of heroism of stars from the thirties / fifties (depending which iteration of the source you want to consider), that also feels like a perfect fit for the era of the films setting.

The villain side of things offers a similar split. William Fichtner's Cavendish is grimy and cut from the right evil cloth for someone to whom life is cheap - a classic seeming Western villain if you will. On the other hand Tom Wilkinson's Cole, who is pulling the strings here, is a pure cliché of power and industrialisation obsession, but with a decent beard. Meanwhile James Badge Dale provides some decent support and Helen Bonham-Carter is solely here for a two scene cameo and to ape one of the crazier ideas in Planet Terror.

Yet the curious thing about The Lone Ranger is that it's more entertaining than any of this suggests it should be. The story is pretty standard fare but it tries to offer up something with a bit more meaning around Native American rights, although the way it deals with this is pretty ham-fisted and you still feel like it's all about the white man winning in the end. At least the fact it's pointing in this direction is a positive thing. Visually is where the film really excels. Much has been made about the cost being so high due to shooting on location and trying to minimise the amount of the film constructed in computers. This shows, which makes it more interesting and somewhat more exciting to watch. It genuinely does look fantastic, but surely that's the least we should expect from modern day big budget films set in scenic locations? It's rarely boring yet it still feels overlong and bloated and some trimming would've really helped, particularly cutting out the execrable and entirely unnecessary framing device.

The Lone Ranger is successful at offering generic big budget fun. It's certainly not the car crash the media has made it out to be (much like the awkwardly unnecessarily media hate John Carter received last year) but it is a film with many issues that hold it back, not least of which is Depp. This is just another in a recent long line of films where he's excessively made-up and annoyingly hams it up, to the point where you're watching the actor rather than the character. His status as an interesting actor is now a long long way behind him, as even recent films where he's not playing dress-up have been poor. The worst thing he can do for his career now is another Pirates of the Caribbean film. But if you can get past Depp you might just be able to enjoy some well staged big action scenes, amazing scenery and classic heroism.

No comments:

Post a Comment