Wednesday 14 August 2013



Epic in scale - including, unfortunately, length (two and half hours), this re-interpretation of a TV boyhood hero for many of those of my generation is totally different from the one I recall from the 1950s. Times and sensitivities have changed radically since then and I don't hold it as a criticism of the film in that it's far removed from the portrayal decades ago of white lawman being supported, loyally as a dog, by the compliant Tonto, who leaves all the initiative to his boss to call the shots. In those days we were all much more naive and uncritical of TV fodder presented to us - perhaps as much as perceptions of today's world will seem to those living half a century hence.

In this film it's Tonto, in the capable hands of Johnny Depp, who is the real star. I'd never heard of Armie Hammer (as the title character) before, though I see he did have a role in 'The Social Network'. He was okay, in fact not bad at all, though maybe a bit on the young side.

The film is an uneasy mix of comedy (quips, zany one-liners and a fair bit of slapstick) and the very serious observations of the plight of indigenous natives, slaughtered wholesale for being 'inconveniently' in the way of construction of a projected trans-continental railway (Tom Wilkinson leading at the helm), with the allure of silver mining to add to the merciless zeal of the 'white man'.

I don't think the film was helped one bit by having the resurrected (nonogenarian?) Tonto narrating the history to a boy visitor of a museum. It returns to this scenario rather too often, fragmenting the storyline.

The ubiquitous Helena B.C. (yes, yet again!) appears as a brothel madame, with a rather unusual weapon - but it's little more than a cameo role, so that wasn't too difficult to endure.

I did find the constant switching between moods light-hearted and desperately serious a bit rickety, but they're managed adeptly enough.

There's more than a strong whiff of the 'Pirates' franchise (I've only seen the first two). The brand of humour is exactly the same, as is the tenour of the script. It's enjoyable enough but lacks much originality. If it hadn't been for the 'Pirates' films it might have been more effective.

When the emblematic music of Rossini's 'William Tell' theme appears in all it's extendedly-composed glory in the final climactic sequence I must own to finding it quite exhilerating, but it was a long time to wait for it. (There's also a brief hint of this theme right near the film's start.)

I found it quite a tiring film, far too big and much too long for its own good, even though one must add a note of admiration for the spectacular scenery, sumptuously shot. But as to recommending it, to be honest, I think not - unless one is especially attracted by the stars or the film's concept.
I am aware of the hostile reviews this film has received in America. Depp maintains that even before the film was completed the critics had started to attack it, and this negativity had created its own momentum.

It's certainly not a bad film, but neither did I find it a very satisfactory one. So, sitting on the fence, I endow it with a balanced.............5.


  1. Your review is much kinder than I was expecting Ray. I dislike everything I've seen and read about this film. It just looks so over the top. American summer fare.

  2. Craig, from what I've heard, most (or even all) the American critics had their daggers at the ready just waiting to pounce when this came out - and they duly performed in that manner. I think they may have been looking for a film, ANY film, to take a big fall, and this one fitted the bill admirably - especially as it was so ambitious.
    It certainly has many flaws, but even so, if anyone wanted to see it I wouldn't warn them OFF it - but neither would I urge anyone to spend money to see it.

  3. Johnny Depp is usually pretty funny and I love Helena B. C. ... I may see it on PPV. Thanks for the review! :)

  4. Hi Brett, Always particularly flattered when you visit here.

    Yes, Johnny Depp always delivers his money's-worth and this is no exception. He's a master of the dry delivery.

    H.B.C. is, in her three appearances here, hardly on screen for more than a total of 10 minutes. I've always seen her as an actress trying ever so hard to escape from the genteel Edwardian young lady image she acquired in the Merchant Ivory films - and she's never quite achieved shaking that off. But maybe that's just me. I know she does have a large following.

    I think a lot would be lost by NOT seeing this on the big screen. It is really spectacular in all those wild open vistas - and the several train crashes are quite something. But, as long as you know what you're missing. Otherwise I doubt if there's enough in it to keep one more than very modestly entertained. However, I may be wrong.

  5. Interesting review. I decided against seeing this, in part because I could not tell from the trailers whether it was supposed to be a parody or not. You comment about changing moods makes sense to me now.

    Armie Hammer may have problems being taken seriously as an actor because he is so good looking. I liked him as the twins in Social Network. I liked him even more as Clyde Tolson to Leonardo DiCaprio's J Edgar Hoover. I will not deny the eye-candy factor played a part in both.

  6. I was keen on seeing it but to my amazement Someone didn't want to do so- and he is usually willing to see anything!

  7. H.K. - Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson - yes, that's where he first caught my eye, rather than in 'The Socal networkd', a film I really disliked (all 'mumble mumble!'). He is indeed good-looking, but then so was Clayton Moore in the old TV series (which you're too young to recall), though I don't think we ever saw him without his mask 0 which we do for Hammer here, frequently. I don't think you're missing too much by not seeing it.

    Dr Spo - Don't you ever go to the cinema alone, or isn't that permitted?

  8. Yes, it seems to be unanimous. Abysmal...

  9. Mitch, I'm confident that it doesn't deserve THAT description. (I feel myself getting all defensive about it now!)

  10. Dr Spo: How is that you can write replies to comments on my blog immediately under them where they belong, while I've got to go to the end of the queue and start a new comment like this one. It just ain't fair.

    Anyway, re your facetious popcorn comment: If I had a popcorn-eating companion I would insist on sitting several seats, or even rows, away from him, at least until he'd finished.
    I once went to the cinema with someone who insisted on taking a bag of chips (French fries) inside. It stunk the whole cinema out. He really would have deserved to have been ejected.