For those who enjoyed the fight for justice in the 1950’s hit television series The Lone Ranger and for those who enjoy the humor of the 2000’s movie trilogy Pirates of the Caribbean, Gore Verbinski’s 2013 film The Lone Ranger will be a treat. Although the film stands on its own, exposure to these previous works is necessary to truly enjoy the humor and get the significance of the symbols used. As the director of the first three of the Pirates films, Verbinski is able to appreciate and accentuate the comic genius of Johnny Depp as both Captain Jack Sparrow and Tonto. In some ways, this changes the focus of the film from the “masked man” to the far more savvy “savage” who brings both spiritual beliefs and worldly wisdom to their novice partnership.
Calling once more on the writing duo of the Pirates franchise, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, they are joined by Justin Haythe (Revolutionary Road) in this enterprise. This combination catches the comedy of the Pirates films while introducing the darker presence of a cannibalistic villain.
Joining Johnny Depp as Tonto is Armie Hammer as John Reid who, under Tonto’s tutelage and his own struggle for justice, puts on the mask to become the most famous Texas Ranger. The son of a Ranger and the younger brother of Dan Reid (James Badge Dale) who is also a Ranger, John has gone to law school and comes back home as a prosecutor with a distrust of guns and a naïve trust in the law. This proves to present a moral and legal journey the Lone Ranger must navigate as he attempts to bring justice to the wild west.
To add romance and depth to the film, we soon realize that John once loved his brother’s wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson). Upon his return, we realize that his eight year absence has not changed their attraction, though Rebecca now has a son with Dan. Also adding depth to the tale is the central role of two evil villains who have taken over a hidden silver mine as well as the transcontinental railroad. Their evil partnership takes on a spiritual dimension that is both unsettling and explanatory. This is seen physically in Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) who literally eats the heart of his victims and politically in Lathan Cole (Tom Wilkinson) who has manipulated the railroad corporation for a hostile takeover.
The complexity of the plot is matched with the humor of the relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto. The unexpected twist to the tale is the context in which it is told. This makes the entire tale a story told by an aged and mythical Tonto to a young boy who idolizes the Lone Ranger, which is a fascinating though unnecessary aspect of this action-packed and entertaining film. Whether this film is the first of a franchise like that of the Pirates films only waits to be seen. We hope so!
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. By introducing Silver as a “Spirit Horse”, the director is able to introduce supernatural ability as well as comic relief to the film. Do you think this enhances the film? Why do you answer as you do?
2. In the original TV series, the silver bullet stood for the value of life, and that life, like the silver in the bullet, should not be wasted. The bullet came to stand for justice since the Lone Ranger did not shoot to kill but to bring a person to justice. However, the silver bullet also stands in mythical literature as necessary to kill an occult person like a werewolf. That is how it is introduced in this film version of the tale as Tonto explains that only a silver bullet can kill Cavendish because of his evil. Which explanation do you like and why is it more satisfying?
3. Just as Marshal Dillon, the Cartwrights of Bonanza, as well as James Bond and Jason Bourne, the Lone Ranger also cannot have a wife. We see this as the Lone Ranger leaves behind his beloved Rebecca and rides off into the sunset with Tonto to fight for justice. Why do you think this is a necessary requirement of these types of heroic tales?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.