Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Monday, March 3, 2014

Someone Please Make Gore Verbiniski Stop

Links to see to before we get ourselves started today. Check out Norma's blog for her look at the Razzie awards. We've got ourselves another Snippet Sunday blog posted at the joint page. The Happy Whisk asks if this is true or false. You decide. Eve has an orchid blossoming.  And at The Real Maple Syrup Mob, we have a cat tutorial on how to attract rabbits. Now then, today it's time for a movie review... one that I'm glad I didn't see in the theatres. I picked it up last week on an express shelf in the library... and I was not impressed.

"People think you are dead. Better you stay that way." ~ Tonto

"Why are you talking to that horse? Why am I covered in dirt?" John Reid
"I buried you." ~ Tonto

Last summer, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer reunited with Johnny Depp for the action-western-comedy The Lone Ranger. Depp came on board to play the unlikely role of Tonto, while the title character got handed over to the inexplicably named Armie Hammer. The end result was a mess filled with distracting continuity glitches, geographical errors, story plotholes, and more problems. It bombed in the theatres, and with good reason.

The story bounces around in time, starting off at a fair in the 1930s as a boy encounters an elderly Indian (Depp), a Comanche who identifies himself as Tonto and begins to tell him the story of how he and the Lone Ranger met. This takes us back in time to 1869, where lawyer John Reid (Hammer) is on a train into Texas. The same train is carrying two prisoners, a renegade Indian, the aforementioned Tonto, and an outlaw named Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) due to be hanged. The train comes under attack from some of Cavendish's gang out to rescue their boss, and Reid and Tonto first meet while dealing with the crisis. Tonto is jailed nonetheless, we briefly meet John's sister-in-law Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) and her son. She will, of course, become the requisite love interest. 

Reid's brother Dan (James Badge Dale) deputizes John as a ranger to go after Cavendish and his gang. Things go seriously wrong, and the posse are all shot down and killed by Cavendish and the others. All except for John, left for dead but recovered by the conveniently escaped from jail Comanche who seems to think the bird on his head is alive and that the brother he has saved (the wrong brother) is a spirit walker who can't be killed.  Thus the two unlikely partners must work together in a story that brings in a horse with an attitude, a corrupt Army officer (Barry Pepper), a businessman with delusions of grandeur (Tom Wilkinson), and a brothel madam with a rather unusual prosthetic leg (Helena Bonham Carter). And it's all tied together with a whole lot of silliness.

Gore Verbinski has something of an eclectic history as a director. One of his earliest films was the priceless black comedy Mousehunt, and he's best known for the Pirates of the Caribbean films (he really should have stopped after the first three). Of those films, his production partner has been Jerry Bruckheimer, who's made a career in movies and television of loud and occasionally obnoxiously boorish stories that feature lots of explosions and rock music underscore. The Lone Ranger is, in short, the hubris of both coming back to haunt them. The film was plagued with production problems and an over the top budget straight off. The story is from a trio of screenwriters, Justin Haythe, Ted Elliot, and Terry Rossio. What they craft is filled with errors. While the story seems to be set in Texas, it moves all over the map geographically, from Monument Valley to Promontory Point (all while dragging history through the mud). It gets numerous details wrong, to say the least (as if we could expect accuracy in a film like this). It doesn't even pay attention to its own continuity- there are plenty of mistakes, such as dirt on a body that's not there in the same way in the next frame- that make you wonder if anyone was paying attention during filming.

And the film doesn't help in that it jumps around in time, not only from decades later, but often in the course of the 1869 timeline where we're seeing something one moment that might only make sense later on. It's distracting, but not in a good way. It also doesn't help to have the kid hearing the story from the elderly Tonto- it's not a framing sequence; the narration interrupts with regularity, and I found myself disliking the kid. It's probably a good idea to refrain from using child actors to begin with; something about this kid struck me like fingernails on a blackboard. They could have dropped the narration element entirely, told the film in a linear fashion, and it wouldn't feel so grating.

Verbinski and Bruckheimer assembled a crew with this production that brings mixed results to the film. Makeup actually does its job. Tonto's entire look is rather striking, and apparently based on paintings of Native peoples (though the dead bird on his head is a bit much). And Fichtner in particular looks suitably hideous as the outlaw Cavendish; he looks like he's been out in the sun for too many years and has been beaten over the head with an ugly stick, so the makeup department went out of their way with giving him that look. This also applies to set design, which evokes the Old West in a great deal of the finer details (even if the crew can't keep track of how much dirt ought to be on a body from one moment to the next).

Much of the filming was done on location, so we've got beautiful western settings (including the obligatory Monument Valley scenes that are seen in every western), and the camera work captures that reasonably well. The special effects and set work for the climax of the film, featuring two trains on a runaway chase through the mountains, also work in making the sequence work (even though geographically the start off of the sequence does not mesh with the bulk of the scene). In fact, the train sequence late in the film actually helps the movie... but not enough to compensate for the other problems that tanked the film. One other member of the crew worth mentioning. Hans Zimmer composes the score, and as usual goes for bombastic and over the top in his signature style, though it works. This is one of those cases as so often happens with movies where the score is the best part of the movie. Zimmer even incorporates Rossini's William Tell Overture into the climactic sequence of the movie, weaving the familiar music with his own score.

The cast is generally made of actors who should have known better than to get themselves in on something like this. Most of them, however, are not to blame for the fiasco this film became (one glaring exception to that). William Fichtner has been playing various dirtbags, villains, and nefarious sorts down through the years as a character actor. He's nearly unrecognizable here, but his Cavendish is an addition to that resume of roles (though Robert Redford, the ghost of Paul Newman, and writer William Goldman would object to the insult to an iconic character with the similar sounding name). Tom Wilkinson is one of those outstanding actors who's often one of the more interesting elements in any film he makes. He's playing a seemingly considerate man named Latham Cole when we first meet him, but underneath all that is a greedy bastard out to get even richer than he already is. Barry Pepper's also one of those actors who tends to be interesting to watch, and seems to suit the part of a soldier well (he's played that before in another period uniform). However, a weakness of the script itself seems to suggest his corruption just happens, which must annoy the actor.

James Badge Dale doesn't last long in this film as the lawman Dan Reid, but is at least plausible as a lawman in the Old West. He looks comfortable in the saddle, and as an actor is slowly building a good resume of work, including 24, The Pacific, Iron Man 3, and The Conspirator. I would have rather preferred him in the lead as the title character. Ruth Wilson is an actress I was unfamiliar with before now, but she plays the requisite part of the damsel in distress reasonably well, with romantic history with two brothers, and a son with one of them. I'd like to see what she's capable of in a film that's better. And Helena Bonham Carter, one of my favourite actresses, must have wondered what she was thinking getting into this film as Red. The character is eccentric and tends to come across as more of a plot device than anything else, used by the screenwriters to fill a plothole. At least Carter has a well established track record and can move off and do other things. 

The two leads are a problem, admittedly. I'll start out with the lesser problem. Johnny Depp is essentially channeling Captain Jack Sparrow with a glazed over Native American in his portrayal as Tonto. The take Depp has on the character is that of a man who's probably out of his mind, a nutcase who's crazy for the sake of being crazy, just like his signature Pirates role. It seems to me like Verbinski and Bruckheimer wanted him to play the role from that eccentric point of view rather than just as a straight on not for laughs character. Or maybe Depp has gotten to like playing eccentricity over and over again. It doesn't suit the character, though, but it's not really Depp's fault so much as it is those behind the scenes- the writers, producer, and director, all wanting to take another shot at that Pirates mentality. Johnny, do us a favour: for your next role, play something that's not eccentric.

Ultimately, the biggest problem of the film, which casts a fatal wound on it, is the actor playing the title role. Armie Hammer (why the hell did this man not change his name?) brings no weight, no gravitas, no sense of presence to the character. Tonto remarks on more than one occasion that the wrong brother came back from the dead, and in that, he's right. Dale would have been a better actor in the role, but instead we get stuck with an actor who we can't take seriously. Hammer seems to be sleepwalking through half the movie, or maybe he's just naturally boring, or maybe he's a pretty lousy actor. I'm inclined to think it's the last of those three options. It's a performance that just scuttles the entire film. This should be an object lesson to producers and directors: don't cast this guy in your film.

The Lone Ranger failed in spectacular fashion at the box office. It is filled with endless errors and gaffes that just hamper the whole thing from the point of view of the historian. The story itself is grating and derivative and wanders all over the place. It's entrusted to a director who needs to step away from filmdom for awhile and come back with something that's not so over the top. And its producer will never take a hint and just go away. Add to that a cast of supporting actors who are largely wasted in place of the spectacle of an empty story, a lead actor who needs to play a character who's not eccentric, and another lead actor completely out of his depth... and you've got the recipe for a film disaster. If you happen to watch this film at some point, you might want to make a drinking game out of this. Every time you have to roll your eyes at something in the story that annoys you, everyone takes another gulp.


  1. Hoo boy...this sounds even worse than I expected!

    It should have gotten the Worst Picture Razzie!

  2. Oh dear..however, I do love a movie full of inaccuracies and continuity errors!!
    Jane x

  3. I figured when they got Johnny Depp to play Tonto, he would end up overshadowing the role of the Lone Ranger.

    I have no plans to go see this movie or rent it on DVD, even though I enjoyed watching Depp in all of his other roles.

    Great review!

  4. I'd heard the movie was bad. Guess you've corroborated it. Too bad. I like Johnny Depp.

    Armie Hammer. Hmmm. Has a kind of familiar ring to it.

  5. I totally forgot about this movie. Guess I didn't miss much.

  6. @Norma: could have been worse. It wasn't Battleship.

    @Jane and Chris: consider yourself warned!

    @Diane: thank you!

    @Shelly: thanks!

    @Cheryl: I hear that name and I think baking soda.

    @Kelly: no, not particularly.

  7. Count me extremely grateful I didn't see this one. How did this even get approval to be made?

  8. This had me laughing out loud: "Armie Hammer (why the hell did this man not change his name?)"

    And yes this was a bad movie and I agree with everything you said and I'm glad we just spent a $1 on it and rented it at redbox.

    *And* it seemed amazingly loooonnnggg.

    {But hey it had Johnny Depp in it. And if I ever lose a leg I want one like Helena's :-) }

  9. Armie Hammer. Seriously?!

    Great review. I like Johnny Depp but this movie just looked too silly. I've heard nothing but bad things about it. Glad I skipped this one.


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