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Entries in Tom Wilkinson (2)

Wednesday
Jul032013

The Lone Ranger

It seems like a strange time to reboot “The Lone Ranger,” the Western themed radio/television show that debuted back in the 30s when the idea of the Western hadn’t faded from society’s interest, much like it has today. Today, audiences seem to want robots and explosions and carnage and new technologies, not a shootout in pre-industrialized America with tumbleweeds rolling around in the background. Perhaps that’s why this 2013 version of “The Lone Ranger” decided to sell its soul. This movie is a Western for the ADD-addled generation, those who need every sense needlessly bombarded with pounding music, sound effects and visual flash. While I hesitate to label it a disaster as some have, “The Lone Ranger” is missing the essence of the genre and it doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer. Despite ridicule from his brother and the general populace, he believes America is heading in a direction of prosperity, a bright and evolved future that will do away with the need for violence to bring criminals to justice. However, while traveling on horseback with the local rangers, including his brother, he is attacked by a wily band of savages, led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a recently escaped madman who was to be executed. In the ambush, everyone is killed except for John, who is restored back to health by a Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp). A treaty has been drawn up between the Comanches and the man who plans on building the transcontinental railroad in or around their reservations, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), but the newly formed team of Tonto and John, eventually dubbed the Lone Ranger, discover not is all as it seems, so they set out to uncover the conspiracy.

I suppose I should clarify one thing. When I speak of “visual flash,” I’m not saying it isn’t welcome. On the contrary, the film is so bland, predictable and unfunny that it’s one of the only things keeping this thing from sinking closer to the bottom of the barrel. Regardless of what one might think of director Gore Verbinski from a narrative viewpoint, his eye for beauty is virtually unparalleled. He’s one of the most visually interesting directors currently making movies (and one of the reasons why “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” remains underrated today) and his talent shines through here. There are some terrific shots with some striking imagery that you can’t help but gape in awe at. The problem is that much of that pizzazz is misplaced.

This movie is set in 1933, when the country was becoming more prosperous and looking to leave its life of wild west outlawing in the past. It was a time to look forward, but a ton of work still needed to be done. It was still a rough and gritty transitional period, yet the visuals here are squeaky clean, never conveying the tone or time the movie is set in. “The Lone Ranger” is, more or less, “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west, but whereas those fantasy adventures benefited from these touches, “The Lone Ranger” suffers. With all of the excessive action, it is unfortunately bogged down by an overuse of obvious CGI, a misjudgment in a movie that needed to be toned down to begin with, not bloated with extravagance.

And speaking of bloating, “The Lone Ranger” is overlong. Running at only a tick under two and half hours, the film drags along with nowhere to go. The eventual revelation of who could be behind the madness is transparent from the start and no other reason is given to care. Sure, there’s a kind-of romance between John and the newly widowed Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), but it’s underdeveloped and ignored for the most part. It’s almost as if the three writers of the film picked one piece of an outlined story, wrote about them without consulting one another and then tried to place them together, resulting in a movie with no flow or cohesion.

“The Lone Ranger” is one of those strange movies that doesn’t do much of anything particularly well, but it’s hard to outright hate it. Its humor lands with a thud more often than not and even its somewhat insulting portrayal of Native Americans—more so in the way it uses their cultures, values and beliefs for laughs than the casting of Depp as one—never truly kills it. The only real reason to see the movie, if you can get past its modernized computer animated façade, is the action, particularly the final moments aboard a speeding train, but even that proves to be futile. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to look no further than Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece, “The General.” Nearly 90 years later and that silent film trumps this one in nearly every way and, without the help of computers, still stands as one of the most thrilling movies ever put to screen. “The Lone Ranger” on the other hand is a two and a half hour time suck. Here’s hoping Verbinski puts his skills to better use with his next project.

The Lone Ranger receives 2/5

Friday
Feb262010

The Ghost Writer

It would be easy to start this review off with a summary of the troubles director Roman Polanski has faced over the years, condemning him for his actions, yet praising his cinematic work, but forget about all of that. The real question is: can this man still make a movie? Polanski, of Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist fame, returns with The Ghost Writer, a political thriller bursting with intrigue and political themes that eventually gets sidetracked by its muddled tone, bad humor and been-there-done-that final twist.

In case you're unaware, a ghost writer is a professional journalist who interviews somebody and writes their books for them. For instance, Bill Clinton's memoirs weren't necessarily written by him, but rather by another person who took what he said and turned it into prose. In the movie, Ewan McGregor plays one of these men, known only as the Ghost, and he is invited to write the memoirs of former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan, after his previous ghost writer was found washed up on shore. For a hefty fee of $250,000, the Ghost agrees to take the job and is quickly invited to live in Lang's house along with his wife, Ruth, played by Olivia Williams. While he is there, allegations of war crimes pop up on the news and the Ghost quickly realizes that there is more to this man's life than meets the eye.

Hot off the heels of Scorsese's umpteenth masterpiece Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer feels like a number of movies mishmashed into one. What should have been an airtight political thriller becomes too oversaturated with goofy humor and chase scenes in the latter half that sometimes make the proceedings feel more like National Treasure than All the President's Men. This journalist all of a sudden becomes an action bound, conspiracy unraveler who figures things out in a split second that the FBI wouldn't for months.

That's not to say I dislike humor and think all serious movies should be completely so, but the jokes in the film seem too self-knowing to really work in this context. At one point in the movie, the former Prime Minister's wife makes a joke about texting. I'm sorry, I wasn't aware this was a teen comedy. Later, the Ghost hops on a bike and his rear wheel sinks into the wet terrain he's traveling on, impeding his movement. This comes at a moment in the movie where he is finally starting to piece together what is happening and is heading off to the beach where the last ghost writer's body was found. I need not explain why that joke is out of place.

My main beef with the movie, however, comes not from its poor use of humor or its sagging back half brought on by a spike in the action, but rather from its piling on of foreboding. The tension doesn't always flow naturally as it should in a political thriller. More than a few lines of dialogue eerily forewarn of the Ghost's impending danger, like one where a character tells him not to turn left in his car or he "might never be heard from again." While this could be fine alone, this is not an isolated incident and moments like this occur throughout the movie. I never felt like I should care based on what I was seeing onscreen, but rather from the constant reminder that something bad was going to happen being shoved down my throat.

Nevertheless, The Ghost Writer raises some interesting themes of power, struggle and war crimes and relates them back to America, exploring our motives and questioning who really pulls the strings, but the provocative conversation that should have occurred on my car ride home became too focused on the glaring flaws to spark any real interest. Despite a solid recommendation, I find myself disappointed with The Ghost Writer, a film that seemed destined for greatness, but ends up a throwaway thriller with minor thrills and little else.

The Ghost Writer receives 3/5