Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Second Opinion: "The Lone Ranger" (2013)

I went to see The Lone Ranger again last night, giving up a couple of hours of sleep to enjoy the heart-pounding, fist-pumping joy it gives me.  Since I described it here a couple of weeks ago, today I'm just going to highlight some of the wonderful nuances that make this movie so enjoyable.

First, let's start with the whole set-up that an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp) is telling this story to a little boy.  How I love this framing device!  That little boy is us, the audience, with all his/our preconceived notions of who and what The Lone Ranger was.  With that little boy, we say, "He wasn't real."  With that little boy, we say, "The Lone Ranger would never rob a bank!"  And Tonto tells us the "true" story.  Only, because Tonto is not only a biased narrator, but an unreliable and fanciful one as well, the story he tells is quirky and off-beat and not what we -- and that little boy -- expect.

Every time the narrative starts to go off-track, or makes a giant plot leap, or does something that's really quite unrealistic, that little boy is right there with us, going, "Hold it, Tonto!  How'd you get out of prison?"  And aged Tonto gets to shrug or make some semi-sensical reply, and then go on with the story, that glitch having been dealt with now.  Truly brilliant.  I know a lot of people have been annoyed by returning to the little boy and the old Tonto, but I think they would be a lot more annoyed if the story just galloped right over those inconsistencies and plot holes.

This movie is beautiful to watch, too.  Lots of the action was filmed on location in Monument Valley, and while DKoren doesn't like the sort of faded, washed-out look to much of the movie, I find it apropos.  This story is Tonto's memory of things, and as he's very old, his memory is starting to fade, which is reflected in the non-bright colors of his story.

But it's not just the scenery that's lovely.  There are some really unique shots, like having a glass of water on the camera lens, and then dripping a red drug into it from above so we see the redness swirl around as it mixes with the water.  Beautiful shot.  Or when Silver looks down a chimney, it's just the coolest image of his head framed there.  Love it.

There are so many other random touches of whimsy and intelligence that I just love.  Like when Tonto is "trading" with the dead Rangers, and he gives one of them the empty bag of peanuts that the little boy had given him -- a bleeding-through of the narrative frame into the story itself.  Brilliant, and so funny.

I love all the visual details!  Like how the aged Tonto has carved all kinds of little symbols into the inside of the frame of his display case at the carnival.  I can't wait to get this on DVD so I can study them and see how they relate to the rest of the movie.  Or when Tonto uses Cole's signature watch-flip at the end to show Cole he's got all the power now.  The way Red (Helena Bonham Carter) never says outright that she used to be a ballet dancer, but we can infer it from her portrait that she keeps in her office, so we know just how much she lost when Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) cut off her leg.  Which is also implied, never mentioned -- this movie is so great at not pounding us over the head with everything and respecting the audience's intelligence.

Sadly, from the reviews I've read, it seems that many viewers totally missed a lot of its subtleties.  I guess maybe critics and viewers alike were expecting it to be a kid's movie, and so they didn't trouble themselves with paying attention.

Okay, enough about details -- let's talk about the two lead performances.  First, Armie Hammer as John Reid/The Lone Ranger.  I love how this character sort of parallels Hammer's experiences.  He's from a wealthy family, and when he decided to be an actor, his family told him this was just some silly adolescent dream, and basically disowned him when he decided to pursue acting as a career.  Meanwhile, Hollywood honchos treated him like a dilettante and pretty boy, and it wasn't until his double roles in The Social Network (2010) that he began to be taken seriously.  Compare that to John Reid, who leaves his home to travel east and attend law school.  When he returns, his brother Dan has married John's sweetheart, and everyone treats him as someone who just wants to play cowboy but has no real place in that world.  John Reid must prove himself to everyone, even Tonto.

And there are a lot of similarities between Tonto and Johnny Depp too.  I get the sense that Johnny Depp doesn't really belong in Hollywood, even now that he's all rich and famous.  He's quirky; he wears funny hats; he's unpredictable.  And, after a string of less-than-hugely-successful movies, people are kind of not taking him seriously anymore.  He's just some weird dude in funny clothes that makes us laugh.  Compare that to Tonto, who is a self-exiled loner with a funny hat and eccentric ideas.  Because of his cryptic fanaticism, no one takes him seriously.  Just another weird Indian.  Almost everyone in the movie fails to realize how intelligent and resourceful he is.  Even the little boy at the beginning thinks Tonto is some old kook until he takes the time to really listen to him.

Okay, I'm going to stop here.  If you want to read someone else's review that really digs into what works about this movie -- and what doesn't -- go here.


  1. Okay, I'm ready to watch it now. Your review made me very curious! I can't believe you can dig into a movie like that so deeply - Czer taught you that, right? I know I didn't, but I think Dad helped, too. Great review!!!

    1. Hee. Too bad it'll probably be gone by the time you're here, or we could make it happen. Guess you'll either have to go yourself soon before it disappears -- it's still showing at your Carmike, with 4 showings to my 1! Or else you'll have to watch it on DVD.

      I'm not sure where I learned to do what I do. I was actually having a conversation with Deb about that recently. I think I went to college already knowing how to identify themes and imagery, so that comes from you and Dad. Then all those lit classes I took from various profs, plus the film class, just kept teaching me more and more.

      Czer once told people that I watch movies the way other people read books. A coworker back in WI told me that I read books the way other people watch movies. Hmm.

  2. This is a good review.

    This comment has been a bad review of a good review.

    1. Lol. Thanks :-) A bad review from you is still quite meaningful, as it's better than no review!

  3. During the numerous times I've seen this in the theater, I've had the thought that in some alternate universe that this movie was made by Warner Bros. in the 1970s. It just had that "feel" to it. I also thought that it had an intermission because of its length, with it naturally occurring between the scenes where John gets shot by an arrow and then the next scene is at Promontory Point. This is the scene that has the surcap of "Comanche Border" on it.
    But since you are a Shakespeare fan, I can also see this movie being divided into five acts.
    1. The first train crash.
    2. Up to Dan's death.
    3. Tonto and John join up, then John gets shot by the Comanche.
    4. The Comanche battle with the US Army.
    5. The final 20 minutes with The William Tell Overture.

    1. It's funny, but every movie I've fallen deeply in love with lately has been about 2 1/2 hours long. That's starting to feel like "normal" to me, hee! But I could see an intermission there, it's a pretty natural break. I have to admit that, with all the Shakespeare and books about writing that I read, breaking things into acts still feels really unnatural to me, and I can never figure out where such things should go! I have a feel for scene breaks and chapter breaks, but acts, I guess I'd have to learn how to write screenplays to understand those. It's so weird.

      December 17 can't get here soon enough! I only managed to see this twice in the theater, while my best friend went more than 12 times. I will make up for that once I have the DVD!

    2. Oh, good, another multiple viewer! Could you possibly have your friend contact me at my blogspot page or my Twitter page? I've seen it more than a dozen times and this is the first person I've read about who has watched it A LOT!
      Thanks so much!

    3. I'll do you one better -- go here to read her own blog post about it :-) But I'm sending her a link to your post on the "action" figures because it makes me laugh very much.

    4. I am glad I made you laugh!
      I have attempted to start a discussion about TLR at a website for people's hobbies. I was already a participant in it long before I had ever heard of the movie, which is why I started it there. I've been writing about everything except the bad reviews and the box office.

    5. The part about "the ever-proper" John Reid staying in character even as a 12" doll with no clothes on delights me and is still making me laugh today.

      I've read through most of your discussion posts, but I don't know how to join in.

    6. This is the home page for Universal Stop.
      I know that what I've written kind of rambles and is repetitive at first. It's because I kept finding new information and kept adding to what I had previously written, especially regarding the merchandise.
      It was fun to write the post about the action figures and their clothing. I have to commend whoever designed the dolls for the tiny details (including underwear, or the lack of it) that he or she created.

    7. The only merchandise I have are 3 Lego sets, a Lego key-chain, a key ring a friend gave me that has a gun and mask and badge and a couple other doodads, a faux-leather journal that I love, a big mug that I love, and three t-shirts :-D

  4. Nice insights! actually gave it a good review, and Quentin Tarantino (of the highly brilliant and quirky Kill Bill series of films) put it on his top ten of 2013. I think the film goes straight over the heads of much of the audience. It is a quirky, unique, highly creative story. The framing story is brilliant, allowing us to understand that what we are seeing is a wonderful, hoary, hairy tall tale, an American Faerie Tale (based, of course, on real incidents, even though Tonto stretches them to the point of breaking). What few remember, is that there was a time when the mere facts of a story meant nothing... it was the heart of the tale, the deep truths, the mythic meanings the story revealed, that mattered. Tonto, like Depp, is our Sacred Clown, our Holy Fool, our Trickster (with corvid on his head no less), a wonderful spirit guide to what was never meant to be an ordinary western, a simple remake, or a kids film. I went on about it at some length here:

    1. Thanks! I didn't realize that Tarantino was a fan, but that does make some sense. Wondering if Robert Rodriguez is too, then.

      I'll go read your review later today -- right now, it's breakfast time.

    2. I know this is an odd question but it's something I'm curious about. Some people who have seen the movie said the theater was packed and enthusiastic but others have said there was hardly anybody there and most of audience left early. This was the week or two after the movie opened. When did you see the movie and where (by that I mean the city or state area), and how was the audience?

    3. I saw the movie I think its opening weekend's Saturday, at a morning showing before 10am, and the theater was probably 1/3 full, and quite responsive. Early morning shows are generally not packed here (northern Virginia).

      The second time was at an 8:50 showing the same night some horror movie came out, so probably 3 or 4 weeks into the movie's run. There were probably 30 other people in the theater, and judging by the laughter, they were mostly repeat viewers like me.

    4. The Conjuring opened July 19, which was when I went to see The Lone Ranger for the first time. The entire multiplex was very busy for all of its movies, even though it was a very nice Friday evening.
      I cannot explain why I wanted to see The Lone Ranger. Years ago I had decided I would never again see a movie that was a remake or sequel or based on a comic book or TV show. That translates to me never seeing a movie in July, because ALL of the movies that month fit one or more of those categories. But for some reason I kept thinking about TLR and decided to go, despite, or perhaps because, of the reviews. I realize now that I was "called" (or whatever you want to call it), because I came out of the theater in a daze.
      Although it will not replace Apollo 13 as my all-time favorite movie, it is definitely number two.

    5. Aha! I think it was The Conjuring that was running when I went the second time. I stood in line forEVER behind people getting tickets for that, even though I'd pre-bought tix on Fandango so that, theoretically, I wouldn't have to stand in line. Ended up missing a big chunk of the beginning, so glad I'd seen it already or I would've been lost.

      I love Apollo 13 too! Saw it in the theater with my family when I was a kid and have loved it ever since -- one of my ten favorite dramas.


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