The Marvelous Brie Larson — #6

Welcome back to another edition of my latest Actor Profile, The Marvelous Brie Larson, a monthly series revolving around the silver screen performances of one of my favorite actresses. If you are a newcomer to this series, the idea behind this feature is to bring attention to a specific performer and their skill sets and to see how they contribute to a story.

For the penultimate installment in my Brie Larson spotlight I’m focusing on a black comedy from British director Ben Wheatley. Considering I have seen only two of his seven films — High Rise and Free Fire — I am not what you would call a Ben Wheatley expert. But what I’ve seen of his work so far has been enough for me to consider him a pretty unique director. Again, it’s a small sample size but I’ve really enjoyed how distinctly different these two movies are. Pure, unbridled chaos and pitch-black comedy seem to be the only things these movies from the mid-twenty-teens have in common. Well, that and if getting a lot of high-profile actors to be in your movie is a talent, Wheatley is most definitely talented.

Free Fire is his first movie “set” in America, though the old print factory in Brighton, England makes for a perfect stand-in for a Boston warehouse. It’s an action-driven movie that plays out as if Guy Ritchie directed Reservoir Dogs, where the schadenfreude is in greater abundance than the bullets and the blood. Best of all, in a movie that features a ton of recognizable names, Brie Larson gets to play a significant role in it and she kills it — quite literally.

If you haven’t caught up with the dark pleasures of Free Fire, it’s streaming on Netflix right now.

Brie Larson as Justine in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Action/comedy/crime

Premise: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shoot-out and a game of survival.

Character Background: Justine, a kind of peacekeeper and one-woman coalition for reason and logic, was originally meant to be played by Olivia Wilde, but she ended up dropping out. I think Wilde is a really strong actor but I can’t see anyone else in this role. Larson’s eye-rolls and natural ability to deliver sarcastic quips are real treasures of this movie. Alongside her American, side-burned colleague Ord (Armie Hammer), she’s here to broker a black market arms deal between the IRA (represented primarily by Cillian Murphy) and a South African gun runner (played deliciously over-the-top by Sharlto Copley), one that goes hopelessly and hilariously awry thanks to an unforeseen event.

The screenplay (by Wheatley’s wife Amy Jump) provides her a really interesting arc. Justine is the lone woman amidst a pack of egotistical, volatile and fairly unsympathetic men. Early on she’s predictably dismissed as just a bit of scenery. When she’s not being referred to as “doll,” she’s being asked out to dinner in what has to be one of the least appropriate ask-someone-out-for-dinner situations ever. While her costars are by and large quick to demonstrate their instability and their sexism, Larson is keeping tallies, and her character’s own ulterior motives under wraps, waiting for the right moment to demonstrate her own penchant for opportunistic scheming.

Free Fire is a very simple movie, and that’s one of its great strengths. Larson describes it as “an action movie making fun of action movies.” The plot is easy to follow and while all the gunfire eventually becomes kind of white noise it’s the characters that make it worth sticking around for. They may be here for different reasons but the thing they will all have in common, sooner or later, are bullet wounds and injuries.

Marvel at this Scene: 

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Wounds

Release: Friday, October 18, 2019 (Hulu — U.S./Netflix internationally)

→Hulu

Written by: Babak Anvari

Directed by: Babak Anvari

The word ‘wounds’ really makes me feel icky. It’s a trigger for me like ‘moist’ is for others. (Sorry if I just made you wince.) I hate. The word. Wounds.

Masochist that I am, I chose to watch a movie with that as the title. Appropriately it grossed me out, but not always in a good way. It’s a weird, nasty, inexplicable (also not-in-a-good-way) psychological/possession thriller set in The Big Easy, featuring a likable cast including Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Karl Glusman (yes, that Karl Glusman) and the rising Zazie Beetz and costarring cockroaches — thousands of ’em. All of a sudden my college days at 2305 Highland Avenue seem not so bad.

W****s is the second feature length film from British-Iranian director Babak Anvari. I wasn’t entirely bowled over by his previous effort, the 2016 Tehran-set thriller Under the Shadow but unfortunately his follow-up only serves to make that one look superior. The story follows Will, a perpetually boozing N’awlins bartender played by Armie Hammer, as his week goes from bad to worse to just plain disgusting after he takes home a phone left behind at the bar he keeps. It belongs to one of the underage college kids who fled the scene when a brawl broke out between a few of the regulars (Brad William Henke as Eric; Luke Hawx as Marvin — good ole boys with the builds of a former NFL player and pro wrestler respectively).

What at first appears to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of being careless with one’s phone — a creepy scene suggests just how easy it is for the wrong person to unlock all the wonders hidden within our personal devices, no matter how sophisticated the lock screen pattern — evolves into a lackadaisically paced, occasionally head (and armpit)-scratching descent into madness and obsession that finds Will and his girlfriend Carrie (Dakota Johnson) battling forces no one, including the audience, can hope to understand.

A hammered Hammer does well with a script that characterizes men as confrontational bulls incapable of showing affection and maybe even unworthy of it and women as the bane of their existence . . . or at the very least, the source of their emotional w****s. (Aha! I see what you’re doing, Mr. Anvari — your movie title is a double entendre.*) Johnson does what she can as Carrie, but her arc is so rushed in development it’s stunning how anyone could have thought this was sufficient. She’s too good for Will, who prefers living in the moment to moving up to the next level in life. While Carrie’s actively trying to better herself — she’s writing a term paper that bizarrely gets sidelined when she becomes consumed by the mystery of what’s on that stupid phone — Will spends almost the entire movie lusting after his bar friend Alicia (Zazie Beetz), whose boyfriend Jeffrey (Glusman) struggles to assert himself as a tough guy.

Writer/director Babak Anvari, as he proved with his début effort, is good at establishing and sustaining an ominous atmosphere. Events take their sweet time to live up to the vibes telegraphed perhaps too early by the soundtrack but eventually they do, particularly in a memorable, if vomit-inducing climax that leaves as big a mark visually as it does aurally. Anvari also takes advantage of setting, turning the host city of Mardi Gras into a ghost town where oversized bugs seem in greater abundance than people.

However, his inability to elucidate why any of this supernatural/sacrificial gobbledygook matters proves catastrophic. The transformations of our (quite honestly unlikable) protagonists makes less than no sense. Tertiary characters surface in weird ways only to be unceremoniously kicked to the cockroach-infested curb, though the product placement for the Dodge Charger is not to be understated. Frustratingly that shocking, gruesome final scene is far better than anything that has come before it in terms of delivering the horror. In a better movie though it might have been the rule, not the terribly obvious exception.

* Okay, so technically his movie is based on a novella called The Visible Filth. Why, oh why couldn’t they have just stuck with that name?! That’s so much better than . . . ugh, I can’t even type it. 

Recommendation: Cockroaches, cockroaches and, oh, what’s this? More cockroaches. Wounds‘ shock value is more like shlock value. Your time is too valuable to waste on a movie that fails to justify itself. The most shocking thing about this movie is how it attracted a cast this good. Though I wonder how much worse this might have been without it. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.variety.com 

Free Fire

Release: Friday, April 21, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Amy Jump; Ben Wheatley

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Free Fire is 85 minutes of pure farce, and it’s kind of awesome. It’s also great news for those who have been wondering if they would ever see a pre-Madonna Guy Ritchie film again. Of course, this isn’t his film; he’s off doing that King Arthur flick with Jude Law or whatever. While it’s onwards and upwards for him, it’s hard not to look at something like Free Fire and wonder what might have been had he ever taken his particular brand of foul-mouthed farcical crime comedy to the American shore.

Cowritten by fellow Brit Ben Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, Free Fire may not be as nuanced or as shamelessly vulgar as Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch but the schadenfreude is uncanny. As is the element of criminal ineptitude, here demonstrated by the majority as two gangs converge in an abandoned Boston warehouse to negotiate an illegal arms deal circa the late ’70s, only to have it go hopelessly (and hilariously) awry.

Brie Larson’s Justine and Armie Hammer’s mutton-chopped Ord are here to broker the exchange of M-16s (not AR-70s) between the IRA, led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and a gun runner from South Africa named Vernon, played gleefully over-the-top by Sharlto Copley. Each party leader comes flanked by their associates, each of varying degrees of unscrupulous — the IRA have Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley), while Vernon’s muscle comes in the form of Martin (Babou Ceesay), Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor).

That’s a lot of bad dudes to keep track of, even in these limited confines. And Free Fire knows it, sparing 15 minutes in the beginning to clue you in just enough as to what actor is playing which character and dropping enough hints to lead you to assume nothing good can come of their being together in the same room for any amount of time. That’s so Ritchie.

But perhaps more importantly Wheatley establishes tonality in these early moments. A particularly stand-offish Frank is cheesed off that their back-up haven’t been punctual. Meanwhile Armie Hammer is a calming presence, seemingly insult-proof. It must be those ridiculous sideburns. This inauspicious start merely serves as the primer for the particularly intense acrimony shared between the slimy Stevo and the hippie-looking Harry. After the former’s indiscretion from the other night is revealed, what little professional courtesy there has been goes out the window and bullets start flying.

For a film whose plot is literally “get the money, get the guns and get out,” it’s impressive how Wheatley manufactures this much entertainment out of that which verges on tedium. Even as the movie comes literally to a crawl around the half-hour mark, it only gets more interesting. Performances are generally caustic — Larson is certainly an interesting choice here, and I’m not sure she works entirely — but they’re more effective physically as the entire ensemble, when not punching each other in the face with their hurtful words, spend their remaining time alive crawling around on the ground looking all shitty.

Imperfect by design, Free Fire offers dark escapist thrills aplenty and unapologetically.

Recommendation: Free Fire is quite different than Ben Wheatley’s previous offerings. It’s more accessible, to a certain extent. If you subscribe to the notion that Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is awesome, this is  going to offer a lot more to enjoy. It’s undeniably slight and verges on being pointless, but who needs Shakespeare when you have Sharlto Copley shouting obscenities in a South African twang whilst on fire? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Ugh, men.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Birth of a Nation

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Release: Friday, October 7, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Nate Parker

Directed by: Nate Parker

It’s all but inevitable making comparisons between Steve McQueen’s 2013 Oscar-winning adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir and the debut feature from Nate Parker. Some have even gone as far as to regard the latter’s work as the 12 Years a Slave of 2016, which, in hindsight, seems a little hasty.

There is plenty of evidence that supports the notion the two films are cut from the same cloth. Both pieces center on fairly young, literate black males who endure uniquely brutal circumstances in the antebellum South. 12 Years may be more notorious for its unflinching depiction of violence, but The Birth of a Nation is no slouch, offering up a similarly sweeping, damning indictment of society by channeling the greater travesty of institutionalized racism through a singular perspective. Nation even compares favorably to its spiritual predecessor in terms of emotional heft and the authority it carries — these are very serious films with conviction to match and an unusual ability to break your spirit through sheer force of realism.

They are also deeply personal works, helmed by capable filmmakers whose vision and whose commitment to that vision seem to go unquestioned. Parker proves himself an indispensable asset, serving not only as Nation‘s director, writer and producer, but fulfilling a substantial lead role as Nat Turner, an enslaved man who inspired a bloody uprising in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831. Unlike McQueen’s third effort, one that followed a free man’s descent into hell having been abducted and sold into slavery, Parker’s debut begins in the muck, gradually building toward a rebellion that caused the deaths of an estimated 65 whites, while retaliatory action on behalf of white militias and mobs cost the lives of roughly 200 African Americans, both freed and enslaved and many of whom had never so much as raised a pitchfork in (righteous) anger. There’s an appalling reality we must face come the end credits, too. A brief title card lets us know just how barbaric life would become in this region in the aftermath. And after being captured we’re told Nat was hanged, beheaded and then quartered, and parts of his corpse were “repurposed” in an effort to eliminate any trace of his existence.

Appropriately, a sense of martyrdom permeates the drama, though this is also the very rough, blunt edge that comes to define the blade of justice Parker is attempting to wield. That the portrait desperately wants to be at least something like The Passion of the Christ when it grows up — Parker clearly regards the figure as more Jesus Christ than Dr. Martin Luther King — doesn’t necessarily make the film profound. It does make it rather clumsy and pretentious though. His introduction, The Birth of a Leader as it were, is far from being a stroke of subtlety, and it’s a moment that we’ll frequently return to during the longer paces of the second and third acts. There’s a mystical quality to the way we’re introduced to Nat as a young boy running from something (presumably violent) through the thick, dark woods. He stumbles upon a small gathering of prophets (as one does) who see the boy growing into a man of considerable influence and power. The only thing they don’t say is specifically how the plot is going to develop.

Nation is a beautifully realized production, from its musty yellow/gray/brown wardrobe to the McQueen-esque shots of a southern landscape that stays still as a painting, hauntingly indifferent to the passage of time. Set against this backdrop are universally committed performances, with Parker offering one of the year’s more morally and emotionally complex protagonists. As a black preacher afforded certain luxuries (you might call them), like maintaining a borderline friendly relationship with the proprietors of this particular plantation to which he has drifted and for whom he picks not-so-endless supplies of cotton, Nat is an immediately empathetic character even if his saintly aura feels awkward. Armie Hammer, who plays Samuel Turner, also turns in strong work, managing to effect a slave owner whose humanity may still lie dormant but is constantly being ignored in favor of simpler, more immediate solutions — getting drunk as a way to deal with his economic woes, and taking out his problems on what he calls his property. Yes, it’s all very Edwin Epps-ian.

Like many plantation owners Samuel and his wife Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller) are enduring very harsh economic times and they are looking for other ways to raise money. A local reverend (Mark Boone Jr.) suggests they employ Nat’s gift to help suppress unruly slaves elsewhere. Sure enough, as we travel with him and Samuel to various plantations and experience the atrocities ongoing there, it becomes clear the young man has a certain power that can pay dividends. But it comes at a hefty price for Nat as the psychological torment of remaining obedient spreads like a cancer throughout his soul, while the contradictory, physical act of standing before his people while he suppresses them with scripture hurts him as much, if not more. It’s a perfectly twisted nightmare, one that comes to life powerfully and memorably via the conviction of a freshman director.

The narrative swells almost ungainly to encompass Nat’s budding romance with the newly arrived Cherry (Aja Naomi King), a quiet but beautiful woman who is taken by Nat’s kindness and confidence. And so we’ve reached a point where the more predictable stuff starts to happen: as Nat’s preaching continues he finds his popularity growing, but also finds his fiery sermons are only inflaming wounds rather than healing them. Violence is visited upon Nat’s home as Cherry, now his wife, barely survives an assault from three men, one of whom is Jackie Earle Haley’s detestable Raymond Cobb, the same man who had years ago murdered Nat’s father right in front of him. Tacked on for good measure are the moments of suffering that now feel de rigueur for the genre — an off-screen rape, the whipping at the post, lynchings. Not that these moments are ineffective or that we once think about dismissing them, but the bluntness with which Parker inserts these moments of torture overrides the film’s more compelling epiphanies, like him discovering that for every verse in the Bible that supports strict obedience to a higher power, there is one condemning man for his violent and hateful behavior.

It’s also unfortunate the road to rebellion isn’t realized as fully as one might expect from a film so provocatively titled. There’s a sense of unity in a few of the ending scenes, but it feels rushed and secondary to the personal stakes that have been ratcheted up by each act of cruelty Nat witnesses; nevertheless it’s not a stretch to imagine these quiet rumblings later erupting into full-fledged war as the country tears itself apart from civil unrest. And Parker even directly addresses those connections by depicting a young boy briefly glimpsed sitting by becoming a soldier on the front lines. While compelling in its own right, transitions like these have little nuance and feel clunky, evidence of a director still finding his style.

In spite of its clumsiness and familiarity Nation feels weighty and you can sense the rage steaming off the pages of this script. You can smell the ink, taste the sweat and the tears that were poured into this labor of love. Yes, the film left me feeling profoundly sad, and I would be lying if I said I wanted to see it again. Yes, the narrative could have (and probably should have) been more subtle with its paralleling of Nat’s suffering to the final hours in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, I am aware that the director’s public image as of present isn’t exactly of the sort you want to tout during awards season. (I find the latter tidbit interesting insofar as it is curiously poor timing for Parker.) Still, there’s enough here to distinguish the film as a unique vision, and one that gains some points for poignancy as nationwide protests continue to dominate headlines as more and more black athletes take a knee. That Colin Kaepernick felt he had to do something symbolic during the National Anthem is evidence that not much has really changed. Meanwhile the red on the flag continues to run.

nat-turner-and-aja-naomi-king-in-the-birth-of-a-nation

Recommendation: Hard-hitting, violent and downright nasty at times, The Birth of a Nation is not an easy watch but it is an important film. It’s an interesting one to watch given its pronounced spiritual roots, even though I personally think the Jesus Christ parallel is a bit much. I am not ready to proclaim this a must-see; it’s not quite as masterfully created as Steve McQueen’s film but at the same time I also get the comparisons. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 120 mins.

Quoted: “Submit yourselves to your Masters, not only to those who are good and considerate. But also to those who are harsh.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Release: Friday, August 14, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Guy Ritchie; Lionel Wigram

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the stylish new action comedy from Guy Ritchie, Henry Cavill looks short compared to Armie Hammer. So I had to go look up the listed height of his less debonair co-star. Hammer stands a towering 6’5″. . . The size difference is notable, but more importantly it defines the film’s running sight gag — two larger-than-life men stumbling their way around a terror plot steeped in 1960s Cold War paranoia.

At the risk of re-opening fresh wounds, may I remind everyone that Cavill is no physical slouch. At 6’1″ he made for a pretty intimidating Kryptonian in the much-maligned Man of Steel (oooh, careful there, Tom), yet here he’s set up on more than one occasion as the submissive one, the American spy Napoleon Solo versus Hammer’s short-tempered Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin. The two must join forces (but only after overcoming that awkward phase of being former sworn enemies on the streets of a Berlin torn literally . . . or, rather, politically . . . in half in the aftermath of World War II) to thwart the efforts of an international crime syndicate hell bent on global destruction, an organization led by the beautiful but dangerous Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki).

Solo appears first. He briefly interrogates a young car mechanic named Gaby (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) who happens to be on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. With her cooperation in providing some personal background (e.g. the nature of her father’s work) Solo assures her he can help her escape the Iron Curtain. An exciting chase throughout the ruins of the city ensues when the pair cross paths with Kuryakin, initiating one of several impressively choreographed stunt sequences that Ritchie has by now mastered. It isn’t as quickly paced or as vicious as those featuring in his signature early works. If anything, U.N.C.L.E.‘s suavity is antithetical of the behaviors of those brazen British blokes of the late ’90s and early 2000s. But don’t make the mistake of equating Ritchie’s tempered approach with a boring film.

In fact his style might never have been better. His ability to generate comedy out of the sheer physicality of his leads trumps the familiarity of the screenplay (written by Lionel Wigram and himself). Cavill and Hammer get along great but there’s something more striking than their chemistry, a chemistry that makes sequels seem all but inevitable. How ridiculous are these guys in the roles of secret operatives? Even with dark pasts, the likes of James Bond, Jason Bourne or even Big Chris don’t occupy the same kind of space. Hammer, who, once again, has four inches on Cavill’s imposing frame, takes on a character simmering with intensity and anger who must stuff his emotions down for the sake of the mission; Cavill, considerably more charming and well-adjusted, can still be a brute when push comes to shove. And yet, if Ritchie allowed the pair to play it straight the film would be bleaker and less enjoyable.

Ritchie also judges his female characters well, effectively emboldening any skeptical future director with the idea that it is, in fact, okay to cast curvaceous females in well-written, anti-damsel-in-distress roles. Vikander, though not quite as luminous as she was earlier this year as Ava, offers strong support in the form of a deceptively complex role, one that comes to bear the narrative’s crux — who exactly is an agent to trust in this time of turbulence and . . . erm, distrust? But it’s Debicki’s sinister Victoria, a descendant of tyrannical rule of some description, that is going to stand up to scrutiny. With what little screen time she is given Victoria is a true sadistic. A femme fatale if there ever was one. Of course, the film has a duty to provide more general entertainment so she’s not untouchable. Her demise is actually one of the movie’s missteps, but hey, now I’m just being picky.

Familiarity with the 1960s TV series isn’t a requisite, nor is experience with the director’s previous outings. Ritchie appeases with a Sherlock Holmes-esque touch — it isn’t probably what die hards are going to be looking for but even they are likely to come to accept this for what it is — and crafts a story that, while not wholly original, steadily absorbs through its key players’ charisma, slick cinematography and gorgeous production design. Expanding beautifully on the backs of a well-established core of enthusiastic performances, U.N.C.L.E. is as ridiculously enjoyable as it is ridiculous.

Recommendation: It’s not the most original story you’ll see this year but it’ll be a challenge to find a more enjoyable thrill ride, especially one dressed in the style of the 1960s. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is one of Guy Ritchie’s best films, and if you call yourself a fan of his brand of filmmaking you owe it to yourself to go pick up a ticket for this right away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “I was briefed on your criminal career. Your balls are on the end of a very long leash, held by a very short man.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Lone Ranger

tlr1

Release: Wednesday, July 3, 2013

[Theater]

Don’t be fooled by the label. Although titled The Lone Ranger, this movie is far more interesting because of Tonto than it is because of what Armie Hammer tries to contribute to his John Reid/Lone Ranger. While even the white horse is more memorable than Hammer’s character (and a better actor, too), this is most definitely the Johnny Depp show again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing had it not been the biggest compliment one might be able to pay this loud, messy project from those who brought you Pirates of the Caribbean.

It’s release is perfectly patriotic, as it comes storming into theaters right before the Fourth of July. There’s a nice rendition of The Star Spangled Banner hidden somewhere in the story. The Lone Ranger and his whacked-out sidekick are all about maintaining freedoms and seeking justice — all of this perhaps hinting to Disney’s inability to judge the quality of the product before judging the quality of its timely release. Somewhere out there in the wild and dusty desert of movie reviews I read that this film “is a rough cut of a slimmed down, better version.” I thought this description nailed it, since what we get isn’t really a bad film as much as it has just far too much going on. There’s too many detours throughout that loosen the wheels on this old locomotive and threaten to derail the entire thing before it’s two-and-a-half-hour run time is up.

The Lone Ranger begins with a boom. A train full of passengers suddenly becomes a weapon as the dreaded Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) manages to escape capture from the empty car he’s being held in and attracts a group of criminals to help him get away. Meanwhile, the tracks that the train is currently riding are still being constructed a couple of miles down the way, and with the conductor now incapacitated, wannabe-sheriff John Reid is unable to stop the train from careening off the end. During this first clash, Reid has been inadvertently handcuffed to a Native American spirit warrior who insists he is innocent to everything that has just happened. Reid insists he be arrested anyway. These opening twenty-ish minutes are exciting and foreshadow a healthy amount of action still to come — even if these action sequences come after extended periods of sleep-inducing exposition and unwanted narrative drift.

Verbinski then saddles us up with the local law enforcement as they ride horseback into some potentially dangerous territory where they hope to find and reprehend the deadly outlaw Cavendish. Having not seen a Westerner in awhile, even I don’t think it’s fair exactly to expect a Tombstone-quality picture from Disney; nor should we have hopes that John Wayne might pop out from behind a rock and completely steal the show. I guess we have Depp doing a lot of that, but this is more in the style of those fun-havin’ pirates in the Caribbean. . .only now we are on land seeking justice instead of buried treasure and all that. The following scenes are important as well and help explain the nature of the relationship between Tonto and John Reid, and what lights a fire under his ass, compelling him to seek vengeance on Cavendish himself — and of course, what is compelling him to don the famous black mask. These scenes are also rich in spoiler material so I’ll avoid detailing them.

Up to this point, we still have a rather interesting movie on our hands. But around the corner, in terms of developing anything worth remembering, all we get are tumbleweeds and dust bowls. Oh, and evil little bunnies.

It’s when we (eventually) start getting into the character development/trust-building phase that the movie starts crumbling. Hammer’s awkward, campy lines and terrible reaction shots are slight causes for alarm. I really wanted to start calling him Armie Hammy since most of what he’s been given in this film are lines that would fit more into children’s books than in an action movie that has more violence within the story than most young Disney fans might be accustomed to seeing. The cheese-factor is through the roof with him, but at least it’s not with Tonto. Instead, all Depp wants to do is call his newfound partner ‘Kemosabe’ and feed grains to his dead bird, which functions also as a headpiece. (Apparently, this is some kind of comfort to the deeply disturbed Indian.) Even with all of the little crowd-pleasing Depp-isms on display, his character feels awfully limited.

Of course, we get kicked off onto several side stories, and this pattern really contributes to The Lone Ranger‘s profusely long run time. One such story fills us in on Tonto’s background and how he has come to liking having dead bird on head. But we no want so much as we want much good big story. Justice is what I seek, Kemosabe.

Even despite the leads being not as strong as they need to be for a film that will center around them, we get satisfactory evil with Butch Cavendish. That dirty grin worn on his screwed-up-looking mouth is just sinister enough to overlook the fact that he is stupid as all hell. (How many times can you afford to let the duo escape death, when you have them right at gun point? The whole business of getting your word in before pulling the trigger is a trick that should be retired in movies, although I know it never will.)

Helena Bonham Carter is in this movie, though she doesn’t have much to play with other than one peculiar physical deformity. Tom Wilkinson is flat and lifeless as the businessman overseeing the development of the Transcontinental Railroad project. I typically enjoy the man’s presence; here, he is a complete waste. Whatever remains of the main cast that I haven’t mentioned are not really worthy of mention and fade into the background with ease.

To the film’s credit, the ending is rather stylish, and is perhaps the only moment in the entire thing that really evoked classic Lone Ranger appeal. It may too be a case of an extended sequence of action and adrenaline, but at least it’s quite a good bit of fun. As well, the scenery is beautiful and I really enjoyed the various physical places we go to, rather than the unnecessary lengths to which the director goes to try and flesh out his story. There’s some gorgeous panoramas of the giant mesas, some unique looks at famous arches, as well as some really great camerawork around the moving trains. In a nutshell, if Verbinski could have whittled this down to under two hours the story surely would have been more compelling and a bit more dramatic. Or at least, it would have had more of an appearance of being that way. With it meandering around from point to point, it seems the director is intent on pointing out everything that makes The Lone Ranger what it is, without much of a thought to creatively fuse it all together. A good draft of a film, but this should not be the final product.

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2-5Recommendation: Diehard Pirates of the Caribbean fans probably will take to this quite well. I am not a diehard fan, but I did find some similarities in the tone and style of The Lone Ranger. However, for whatever elements the two seem to have in common, Pirates of the Caribbean was the superior film. Depp is pretty decent as Tonto, but seems a little worn out and tired. Maybe that was just the incredibly lame script.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 149 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com