Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lone Ranger

Plot: An old Tonto (Johnny Depp) tells a story at a museum to a young boy about a band of Texas Rangers that get ambushed, and only one survives -- who becomes the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger/John Reid (Armie Hammer) goes after the band of outlaws for revenge. The outlaws work for silver miners and railroad interests. The Comanche Indians are threatening the settlers including the John Reid's sister-in-law and his nephew. The story has fantasy and magical elements. The Ranger's horse Silver is magic spirit horse who rescues them in deadly situations. In the climatic battle, the Lone Ranger and Tonto battle on a train to foil an evil railroad man's scheme to get rich on Texas silver. At the end, there are some jokey references to classic Lone Ranger tropes, and after the credits Tonto returns to walk into the horizon. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: A deeply strange movie with more symbolism and absurdist humor that I expected from Disney. Lone Ranger reimagines the story centered on Tonto who is a Shaman, and who creates and aids the Lone Ranger with magic. The battles are family-friendly and campy. They are knowingly and ironically unrealistic. 

I can see why Lone Ranger was poorly reviewed; it does not fit into a movie genre. People expecting an action movie are disappointed by the comedy and the absurdity.

In many ways, Westerns can't be written in the 2010's because the white Americans are too guilty about the way Native Americans were treated. The Native Americans can not be bad guys because this triggers a chain of causation about why they are bad -- Are they reacting to just provocation? -- Are they products of white-man-created poverty that leads them to strike out in rage? Disney is not going to deal with these questions because they come too close to justifying terrorism. Here, American Indians sit out conflicts while white Americans battle each other.

In this context, Tonto has moved from being a the Lone Ranger's helper in the 1930's original radio show to being a Shaman. Now the Lone Ranger is not a solitary hero -- he used to be the LONE Ranger after all. Now he is the vehicle that Tonto is using to bring justice and advance the Indian Spirit symbolized by the crow.  This rethinking of the story to modern sensibility and the camp violence leads me to label it Post-Modern.

There are few women in the script, Reid's sister-in-law Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), and the brothel owner Red Herrington (Helena Bonham Carter) -- who is wonderful as always. Of course, prostitutes are way over-represented in movies, but that is a topic for another day. I expect Rebecca has a big role in the sequel. 

The closing battle has the William Tell Overture playing and the fighting is stylized, comic style fighting. There is almost no blood and surprisingly little injury. 

Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Rating: 2.75 stars, maybe it deserves 3.0  -- Really strange. Always interesting. I was glad I saw it. On the other hand, it was not fun-to-watch in popcorn, summer-movie sense. This movie could be a classic though.
More:  The crow is the spirit of the Indian. Tonto wears it on his head because he identifies with it.  The crow dies when the village is massacred, and it is nurtured when the young boy hears the story. When Tonto does something he spreads bird seed to bring the spirit of the Indian back. When he says the bird can't tell time, he is saying the Indian Spirit is timeless. They boy is supposed to carry on the mission of the Lone Ranger in modern times. When the rabbit eats the scorpion, they are saying nature is still out of balance, and needs help.  At the end Tonto walks on, indicating he is a timeless Shaman.

Yet More:  Tonto's make -up is based on a 2006 painting by Kirby Sattler.

Still More: Tonto means "fool" in Spanish and related languages. The other Indians seemed to know that.  Kemo Sabe means "trusted scout."

It keeps coming: Johnny Depp claims American Indian ancestry, but is not enrolled in any tribe.