Arts & Entertainment

Review: Tonto takes center stage in film version of Lone Ranger

Tonto and Silver. Photo Walt Disney Pictures

A.O. Scott reviews The Lone Ranger for The New York Times:
Someone in the Disney-Jerry Bruckheimer corporate suites has decided that today’s kids need their own version of the white-hat western hero with his laconic Indian sidekick, and so now we have “The Lone Ranger,” a very long, very busy movie that will unite the generations in bafflement, stupefaction and occasional delight. Directed by Gore Verbinski from a script credited to Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the movie tries to do for the post-Civil-War frontier what the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise did for the high seas in the Age of Sail, turning history (including the history of movies) into a hyperactive, multipurpose amusement machine.

There are moments when this approach — which combines fussy, facetious knowingness with naïve, omnivorous enthusiasm — pays off nicely. The main action of “The Lone Ranger” takes place in a fantastical 1869 Texas, but it’s framed by scenes set in San Francisco in 1933, the year the Lone Ranger made his radio debut. As the half-built Golden Gate Bridge looms in the background, a young boy in cowboy duds and a black mask wanders into a Wild West fairground attraction, where he gazes on a taxidermied buffalo and grizzly bear, and also on an elderly American Indian with a dead crow on his head. A brass plate identifies him as “The Noble Savage in his Native Habitat.” The boy comes to know him as Tonto, and the rest of us recognize him, even under heavy prosthetic wrinkles, as Johnny Depp.

Turning an aging, weary Tonto into a somewhat unreliable narrator signals that we are in a world of tall tales and strange myths, a universe of stories that fed the imaginations of many American children in the early and middle decades of the last century and that may strike their descendants as archaic and a little embarrassing. Sturdy western archetypes sit uncomfortably close to ugly ethnic stereotypes, and “The Lone Ranger” tries to imagine a wholesome, inclusive version of the western while reviving the time-tested touchstones of the genre.

Get the Story:
Hero Rides Again, With Big Boots to Fill (The New York Times 7/3)

Related Stories:
Mary Pember: Johnny Depp taps into his inner Tonto in video (7/2)
NPR: Johnny Depp looking to 'right the wrongs' in Tonto role (7/2)
NYT: 'Lone Ranger' isn't Johnny Depp's first role as an Indian (7/1)
WSJ: Other White actors with Indian roles on the big screen (6/28)
Opinion: Native media ignored at 'Lone Ranger' press junket (06/24)
The Onion: Indian Country in love with Tonto in 'Lone Ranger' (6/20)
Interview with Sonny Skyhawk on Indian roles in Hollywood (06/12)
Opinion: Blatant racism in Tonto's portrayal in 'The Lone Ranger' (06/03)

Join the Conversation