I’ve made it a habit to avoid movies starring Johnny Depp. There are many things I can put up with in an actor, but that special Depp brand of unctuous sex appeal is not one of them. After one last shot with the first Pirates movie, I pulled the plug on Depp, that is, until he was cast as Tonto in this summer’s The Lone Ranger. My own commitment to the masked kemosabe is such that I had to brave even Johnny Depp—and true to form, he delivered yet another cinematic scalping. The only upside of this was that his performance was entirely consistent with the rest of the movie. If Depp was Jack Sparrow with a dead bird on his head, Armie Hammer’s Lone Ranger was channeling Brendan Fraser as George of the Jungle. And that’s pretty much all you need to know about the movie: Captain Jack in face paint yucking it up with a masked George of the Jungle.
For those of you who grew up with the William Tell Overture as the theme music for your mad dash to the TV, I’ve already said enough to incite a more-than-mild sense of loathing for the movie’s director, Gore Verbinski. But lousy acting is the least of Ranger’s shortcomings. One could go on interminably, but I’ll just note one particular tidbit touching on the Western classics before getting to what I really want to say. An early scene has John Reid (soon to become the Lone Ranger) aboard a Texas-bound train. He’s finished his legal education and is headed home to see that due process of law is observed in the westward expansion. The railcar is full of sanctimonious Presbyterians, one of whom politely asks Reid if he’d care to join them in a hymn. “No thank you, ma’am,” he replies, holding up a copy of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, “this here’s my bible.” Never mind that the very foundation of equal justice under the law, for Locke, is that we are “all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order and about His business, [we] are his property.” If Reid had actually been reading his “bible,” he might have joined in the singing. But as it happens, a snub from this Lone Ranger doesn’t turn out to mean much, because in reality the moral center of the movie is a big, gaping void.
Let me back up a bit. Here’s an excerpt from a post I put on our family blog a few years back when I introduced my boys to the Lone Ranger: