Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Noble Savage

I thought this was an interesting take on Lone Ranger, as the writer delves into the history of subversive westerns in American cinema, noting how Gore Verbinski's movie differs from Quentin Tarrantino's Django in its much more ambiguous take on history.  Of course, neither hold a candle to Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah, but it is nice to see anti-Westerns and anti-histories making a comeback.

Johnny Depp is no stranger to the anti-Western.  I thought he was fantastic in Dead Man, which had a very limited release because Jim Jarmusch refused to change the ending to suit Miramax tastes.  To some degree, it seems Depp tried to reprise this role, giving Tonto a similar controlling force as Nobody in Dead Man, only Gary Farmer gave the character a fine ironic touch.  But, it was a game effort on Depp's part, even if the movie fell flat at the box office.

Americans prefer their Western heroes writ large, and have a hard time wrapping their thoughts around anti-heroes.  Even John Wayne's Ethan Edwards remains an enigma in devoted John Wayne fans' minds, because Ethan doesn't fit comfortably into the heroic image of the West.

Leone took John Ford one step, maybe even two or three steps, forward in casting Henry Fonda as the notorious Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West, arguably the best of all anti-Westerns.  Ironically, Fonda may have very well been cast as Ethan if he hadn't had a falling out with John Ford.

Verbinski seems to draw on all these films in creating Lone Ranger.  You can easily spot many visual references, but there is a number of other references in the story. His Pirate movies also rise above standard swashbuckler tales in that he draws on a wide body of themes, not content to deal with the standard narrative.  I found myself particularly intrigued with the second film in the series, Dead Man's Chest, because he got into the concept of Manifest Destiny and gave his villainous Davy Jones a much deeper character than we usually see in these films.  Unfortunately, Verbinski didn't successfully close the deal in At World's End, but then I think this was because he was forced to throw too many new characters into the mix.

To some degree, Hollywood now seems to be embracing these darker characters and story lines, I suppose because teenagers today don't want standard narratives and identify themselves with these darker characters.  Otherwise, there would be no money to be made from it.  Even if Sergio Leone made Clint Eastwood, his films were not embraced at the time.  It was only in retrospect that critics came to appreciate Leone's unique take on the American Western.

Fortunately, Lone Ranger is far away from the original television series.


  1. I regret not seeing this when it was in town (for about 5 days ...). That photo is classic.

  2. I watched the first half the other day and found myself enjoying it although it is essentially a pastiche of 60s and 70s Westerns ranging from Little Big Man to My Name is Nobody. No great arcing story that I can see here, but look forward to the second half. Quite a long movie!