As much as I like Johnny Depp as an actor and what he brings to a role, you have to wonder what he and Disney were thinking when they decided to take on as dated a franchise as The Lone Ranger. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a big demand for Westerns by Hollywood audiences in recent years. The last summer blockbuster that gambled on that genre and lost was the 1999 reboot of the Wild Wild West starring Will Smith. In 2011 Cowboys and Aliens tried to take the genre in a different direction, but had mediocre success as well. The only movies to have succeeded in the genre were the remake of the True Grit in 2011 and Tarantino’s genre bending Django Unchained (2012).
Regardless of the relative popularity of the genre, the larger question that has been raised is how can you present modern audiences with a Native American sidekick like Tonto without it being a stereotype and racist? There are lot of more detailed discussion on this subject out there on the web if you do a quick search for it, but here’s one article – Johnny Depp as Tonto: Is The Lone Ranger Racist? (Read more: http://entertainment.time.com/2013/07/03/johnny-depp-as-tonto-is-the-lone-ranger-racist/#ixzz2YNkSyJZ8) that is good jumping off point with links to other articles.
I know Depp has an interest in Native American culture* and in interviews has claimed to have some Native American ancestry. I want to believe that Depp’s heart is in the right place, but the Tonto I saw on the screen sadly reinforces those stereotypes.
Cultural appropriations aside, the movie has enough other faults. Overly long and padded at 2 1/2 hours the movie suffers from an identity crisis unable decide if it wants to be an irreverent action/comedy or a straight-up Western. The plot is paper thin and telegraphed so far in advance that I doubt few are surprised by any of the twists.
Depp’s performance alternates between mystic Indian and class clown, which makes his face paint even more troubling as a costume choice. At one point I could have swore he was channelling Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown, Reverend Jim Ignatowski) in his mannerisms. Depp does reference another Lloyd – Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton in some of his comedic stunts including a scene in which he uses a ladder to switch between trains in the climatic scene.
The film is not with out a few laughs, but it’s never a comfortable laugh. Sadly this won’t be one of my favourite Depp roles for a variety of reasons.
*Depp’s directoral debut – The Brave (1997) also had Native American’s at the heart of the story and has a troubled history as well.