Review: The Lone Ranger

Written by: Derek Winnert

Who is that masked man?

I don’t know, he’s wearing a mask!

Alas, The Lone Ranger, while decent enough old-fashioned entertainment, is a bit of a lone star film. Johnny Depp takes sole star billing above the title as Tonto, leaving poor Armie Hammer in an also-ran second place when he should be the proper star of this comedy Western. Why didn’t Depp play The Lone Ranger and a Native American actor play Tonto?

Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in The Lone Ranger

Now when I say comedy Western, I don’t mean Blazing Saddles or Carry on Cowboy. I mean more Django Unchained. A serious Western with some comedy. But here the two elements don’t gel and cohere. It’s like two films running on parallel lines.

Neither half is particularly good or particularly bad. The comedy’s a bit lame and weedy but well enough staged and performed and the Western story is pretty routine and unsurprising. The framing story of an ancient Tonto coming to life in a museum and telling his story to a little boy dressed as the Lone Ranger should be charming but it’s only a distraction and time filler, adding more running time to an already way over-length movie.

Getting slacker and slacker after Pirates of the Caribbean, and wearing acres of mascara again, plus other bizarre makeup, and a dead bird on his head (don’t ask me why), a still-likeable and appealing Depp has all the comedy of course. He’s funny enough, I guess. It’s a tribute to his skills and popularity that he can get some big laughs with some quite weak lines. Though it’s very dodgy that he gets to play the Indian ‘noble savage’ Tonto, quarrelsome sidekick to the great white man of a hero, John Reid, now turned into masked righter-of-wrongs, former idealistic attorney and US Ranger, The Lone Ranger. The duo join the Rangers on the trail of the evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his gang, and set out to bring him to justice.

The 6’ 5” Hammer looks right in his white Stetson and little black mask that ironically provides no disguise whatsoever. But he has the far more difficult task of the two stars, making a basically boring, one-note character exciting and appealing. That he does the job pretty darned well is big kudos to him.

It’s a Disney film but surprisingly it’s very violent, with loads of shootings, maimings and deaths. They should have it kept it light and bright and much more fun. There’s an air of weary cynicism around when what’s needed is bright-eyed innocence. The Lone Ranger’s a product of a simpler time, and clean, simple, wholesome entertainment in homage to the old TV show was the route to go. The Lone Ranger’s values are out of synch with ours and some significance as well as humour could profitably have come from this.

All round, the acting is fine, more than fine, it’s pretty much quality stuff. Among the support actors, William Fichtner and Tom Wilkinson have a great time, lip smacking, moustache twiddling and otherwise playing the very-nasty-indeed baddies, Butch Cavendish and Cole. And Helena Bonham Carter has a good time as a one-legged brothel madam with a gun in her peg leg, while Barry Pepper, Harry Treadaway and James Frain all create memorable support characters. It’s a time of clean-cut heroes and dastardly villains, and the actors and script do very well in this department.

Unfortunately, though, the film is episodic, along the lines of ‘and then, and then, and then…’ But it finally sparks up magnificently for a fantastic climax, brilliantly and breathlessly staged, as the famous William Tell Overture signals a brio-filled, endless-seeming sequence that wraps up the film with all the excitement and dynamism that was missing earlier. This sequence alone is worth the price of admission, though I’d swap seeing it for the experience of seeing the entire movie.

Hans Zimmer’s rousing score and the incredibly lavish-looking production that comes from its mega $250m budget are aces in the film’s pack. Gore (Pirates) Verbinski’s direction is not: it’s often too leisurely between the well-staged bursts of action. The script’s OK but not a particular winner, it can’t find a plot that’s new or exciting enough to fill the movie’s vast canvas. If the Western’s going to come back into vogue it needs better stories.

Overall the film juts goes to show that The Lone Ranger’s not an easy one to transfer to the big screen and make a winner in this day and age. They failed in 1981 with Klinton Spilsbury and again 2003 with Chad Michael Murray. Time to leave The Lone Ranger alone, guys. Don’t you know, Westerns are out of fashion?


Author: Derek Winnert

Derek Winnert is a leading UK movie critic, film writer, author and editor. Read his Classic Movie Reviews at

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