Johnny Depp, like any good actor, knew that the title character in The Lone Ranger is a total stiff. The best lines, sight gags, backstory and costume in this skillfully crafted ode to cinematic excess belong to Depps rogue Comanche, Tonto.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
On 1950s TV, Tonto is what made the Lone Ranger stand out from the throng of classic cowboys. The vigilante seemed more tolerant, more progressive than Gene Autry or Maverick because his crime-fighting partner (not sidekick) was an American Indian, portrayed by Jay Silverheels of actual Canadian Mohawk ancestry.
In the new $250 million version, Tonto now earns top billing. After all, Depp is always the main attraction in summer blockbusters. Of course, the actor being a white Southerner makes things dicey, PC-wise, despite his claims hes got Cherokee blood and despite Disneys efforts to win over tribal leaders.
As the film begins, we meet Tonto as an elderly man, part of a Noble Savage display at a 1933 Wild West exhibition. The movie is told in flashback through his rheumy eyes. (Just one of many oddball narrative devices employed by director Gore Verbinski of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.)
The story drifts back to 1869 Texas, with Tonto shackled in a prison railroad car on its way to a public execution.
Tonto is asked by lawman Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), Whats your crime, boy?
He replies, Indian.
Tonto awaits his fate with Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a murderous thug whose silver tooth heralds his true motives. The inmates get introduced to Dans district attorney brother, John Reid (Armie Hammer of The Social Network), right as things go off the proverbial tracks.
The Lone Ranger starts with an action set piece involving trains, horses, escapes and shootouts that rivals any James Bond opening. The outcome compels Dan and John to hunt down the fugitive Cavendish. Their mission ends in tragedy, putting John on a path of righteous vengeance as the masked ranger joined by Tonto, of course.
Wearing a dead black crow on his head and shrouded in mime-like face paint, Depp is certainly hard to ignore. (His look is based on the Kirby Sattler painting I Am Crow.) A running joke finds him always attempting to feed the perched bird because he is awaiting spirit to return.
Normally favoring chatty characters, Depp falls into the broken laconic delivery popularized by Silverheels. This economy of words makes simple lines such as horse dead all the funnier.
Helping Depp keep the picture interesting are some delightfully scuzzy period detail and a fine use of locations (primarily Utah and New Mexico). Additionally, the movie takes a more old-fashioned approach to thrills. It appears to showcase as many stuntmen as it does digital compositors. (Depp himself was accidentally thrown and dragged 25 yards by a horse during filming.)
The Lone Ranger works best as a revenge tale, until that gets muddled along the way. The story meanders with extensive flashbacks, then wastes time trying to dupe the audience into caring about new villains. Like the Pirates sequels, this is a 21/2-hour project padded by 45 minutes.
Right when the movie is dangerously close to losing its mojo after senses-dulling scenes of violent cavalry battles while the heroes try to outrun fireballs those familiar trumpets start to blare. Rossinis William Tell Overture kicks in, just as it did in the classic TV series. The finale is scored to this rousing music, elevating Verbinskis outlandish dueling locomotives climax into pop art.
Tonto and his sidekick, the Lone Ranger come to the rescue in style!