Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Rehabbing Tonto

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Rehabbing Tonto

The Lone Ranger as Picaresque Tale

by Tony Dayoub

As The Lone Ranger shifts from the point of view of its hero, John Reid (Armie Hammer), to the first-person narrative of his Indian sidekick Tonto (Johnny Depp), the tired pulp story becomes a postmodern picaresque. A type of story with a long literary tradition but seldom seen on film, a picaresque is usually episodic in nature, a fact that contributes to what many perceive is the messiness of The Lone Ranger. Tonto exemplifies the typical picaresque hero (or picaro), noble in intentions but misguided and perhaps even unreliable in his perception of the events in which he is usually at the center. Like Arthur Penn's Little Big Man, this film begins with a rather decrepit Indian as a dubious storyteller, spinning a yarn full of non-sequiturs and magical realism that both uncomfortably overlap with heinous atrocities in order to subvert the typical white victor's perspective of the American western. The first appearance of Depp, made up to look a hundred-odd years old, is itself a metatextual reference to Little Big Man’s protagonist, Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman). Crabb is a white man raised by the Cheyenne who encounters famous figures like Wild Bill Hickok and George Armstrong Custer (who, in The Lone Ranger, finds his own visual parallel in a cavalry officer played by Barry Pepper), just before their grand, untimely ends...



Neil Fulwood said...

This is the only review of 'The Lone Ranger' I've read that has made me actually want to see the film. As soon as you'd pinned down the aesthetic to the picaresque, my mind hyperlinked to a couple of dozen favourite novels and - of all movies - 'O Lucky Man!'.

I was on the cusp of giving this a miss. Now I'm starting to think it's worth two and half hours of my time.

Tony Dayoub said...

I am gratified by this response, Neil. I hope you still agree with me after you get around to seeing it.