The Lone Ranger
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Opens July 3
"Stupid white man," Tonto (Johnny Depp) sighs once he regains consciousness after his so-called companion, John Reid (Armie Hammer), knocked him out cold and abandoned him. Seeking the arrest of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) for the ruthless murder of his brother and six other Texas Rangers, the Lone Ranger-to-be Reid takes notorious criminal Cavendish into custody with the naive hope that he'll find justice under a court of law. Stupid white man indeed.
Most moviegoers attending Disney's latest blockbuster might not remember that the same epithet was used against Depp in Jim Jarmusch's 1995 cult favorite Dead Man (and might be used against him again for his somewhat insensitive portrayal). In fact, director Gore Verbinski, who has worked with Depp and Ranger's screenwriters before, on Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, litters his reboot of the beloved radio and TV serial with countless allusions to the genre's confirmed classics-with more than a few nods to legendary directors John Ford and Sergio Leone. Unfortunately, the Western tropes are trotted out more for parodic farce than for true artistic imitation: even the Lone Ranger's signature "Hi-Ho, Silver!" does not escape derision. And although Hammer and Depp capture the sense of adventure from the original series, they can't help but act with a little Wild West campiness.
But there might be more to this self-awareness than just cheap laughs. Maybe the only way to avoid the more untoward hallmarks of the typical Western (approval of Anglo-American imperialism, disdain for American-Indians, etc.) is to present these ideas as ultimately absurd and laughable.
Uncharacteristically, the most sinister agents of violence in The Lone Ranger are not American-Indians but the American legislators and railroad tycoons (including Tom Wilkinson as the unscrupulous Latham Cole) who impose their customs, laws, and culture over those of the land's native peoples. Through this clever act of role-reversal, Verbinski is able to tailor the structure of the original series to a more sensitive and culturally aware modern audience-even if it occasionally relies on Tonto's broken English for laughs.