Johnny Depp THE LONE RANGER: Native American Jack Sparrow

Johnny Depp The Lone Ranger TontoThe Lone Ranger 2013: Johnny Depp as a Native American Jack Sparrow (image: Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger)

[See previous post: “The Lone Ranger Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean in Western Garb.”] Gore Verbinski fills The Lone Ranger with ticklish insider references to other classic Westerns and even gives a nod to Johnny Depp's 1995 oater Dead Man. And, as usual, the director busts out the crane shots – and it's always a kick to see how his latest swooping camera move will reveal detail and add spikes of humor. The flip side is that Verbinski will indulge any plot complication as long as it results in another action sequence.

John and Tonto's search for Cavendish often takes them to a railroad track, railroad tunnel, or railroad train, where a loud and kicky set piece awaits its cue. In fact, six miles of track and two locomotives were constructed just to add authenticity to The Lone Ranger, even though there's so much CGI anyway that they might as well have saved themselves the effort. Still, it's a refreshingly old-fashioned approach that's mischievously appropriate considering the story is built around railroad expansion, here spearheaded by railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Cole initially claims his expansion plan will honor the treaty between the White man and the Native American, only to change his mind later, with violent results.

Johnny Depp and The Lone Ranger's portrayal of Native Americans

Indeed, The Lone Ranger will be measured partially by how it treats its Native American characters. Johnny Depp has noted in interviews that he wanted the film to return some dignity to the United States' indigenous people. But that's just a talking point for the promotional circuit. A flashback recalling the tragic event in Tonto's childhood that explains his motivation (and possible his kooky behavior) is historically plausible, but means little once he starts feeding the dead crow on his head and prancing around like, well, Jack Sparrow.

That's not to say the Comanches in The Lone Ranger should be treated with solemn reverence – lest, at the very least, we lose the movie's funniest line, spoken by the head of the Comanche tribe. That is to say, however, that Depp's Buster Keaton-esque imagining of Tonto does the character and his heritage no favors.

The Lone Ranger 2013 movie: Basic premise too old-fashioned for our 'newfangled, smart-aleck world'

Even if Johnny Depp played Tonto with less winking and less quirk, that wouldn't forgive a basic miscalculation in blatantly remaking Pirates of the Caribbean as a Western: pirate tales can better accommodate campiness, whimsy, and flights of visual fancy. Swashbuckling pirates seem more fictional, the subjects of tall tales beloved by children and read under the covers by flashlight. Westerns, on the other hand, are ripped from the nation's recent, violent, often tragic history.

Only a rock-steady vision would have allowed Gore Verbinski to go off the reservation (pun intended) and ask audiences to accept vicious cannibalistic rabbits (don't ask), silly humor, and dollops of mysticism. His take features modern sensibilities, modern technology, and modern studio-marketing strategies. As a result, Disney spent over $200 million to prove The Lone Ranger is too old-fashioned for such a newfangled, smart-aleck world.

The Lone Ranger (2013). Director: Gore Verbinski. Screenplay: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio. Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Mason Elston Cook, JD Cullum, Saginaw Grant, Harry Treadaway, James Frain, Damon Herriman, Gil Birmingham, Damon Carney, Stephen Root.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger photo: Walt Disney Studios.

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