The Lone Ranger: Tonto Is Its Biggest Problem, But Definitely Not The Only One

The Lone Ranger Poster

When discussing why Lone Ranger is a bad film, I think it's important to not let the problems with the film overshadow the biggest problem - a single casting choice. Tonto. I understand Johnny Depp has stated his great-grandmother is Cherokee, I do. But to cast him as Tonto says, really, there was no one of Native American heritage that the film could ever have possibly found to play the role, and instead they chose to white wash it - literally with all the make-up he was under. "But, Adam, what about his performance? Didn't it justify ---" Shut up. No. It didn't. You know why it didn't? For the same reason that Khan shouldn't have been played buy a white guy. For the same reason The Last Airbender was a giant failure of race. Yeah, I get it, lots of great white men act. And they can have every other role in creation, it seems. See, when you have 98% of all movie roles, it's a problem if you grasp longingly at that last 2% claiming some level of wanting fairness, or justice, in the scheme of things. And look, I didn't go into this knowing how I'd feel on the way out. I thought of a few scenarios where they could have at least tried to make me buy White Man Tonto as a logical and legitimate character choice. But when they cast a little a Native American boy to play young Tonto I wanted to laugh or cry or… really anything but keep perpetuating this myth that this casting logic is somehow all right.


I like Johnny Depp. I like a lot of his movies. Not all of them, certainly, but many. And I deeply wish he hadn't done this role. It's offensive. So is the rest of the movie. Well, that's a bit too strong. I wouldn't go so far as offensive. Oh wait, yes I would. This movie is two and a half hours of tonal mess. It wants to be at least two movies, more like three, at the same time. Between the dramatic, heart-felt structure it plays with, the light comedy it shoves in your face and the rousing pulp adventure it claims to be on the tin, you might think some amazing Voltron of Lone Ranger-tude would emerge. You would be sadly mistaken. On the other hand if someone wants to make a Voltron out of Lone Ranger characters, mail me. I would be interested in what you're selling. No, sadly the movie never bothers to try and make a cohesive whole out of the disparate parts it has on display. It just picks the tone of a scene and runs a while then ends up in a different scene and maybe that belongs to a different type of movie but that's fine--just slot it on in there. Depp certainly doesn't seem to care. Outside of the actual word-use (because you know they had to do some form of stilted racist speech for Tonto, it's tradition, or something) every single moment Depp has could have been a lost scene from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Every one. The difference between the two is 100% only in the make-up, costume and speech pattern. It made for a movie where there is no there, there. All flash pretending to be substance, and no substance in sight, not any that isn't instantly undermined by what surrounds it, at least. you never got the feeling anyone involved cared why they were there. Certainly the character who was shot in the back and seeming died writhing on the ground, only to be back a scene or two later as if nothing had happened, didn't care. They didn't care and, unsurprisingly, I found I didn't either. There were glimmers. Tonto's backstory provided an interesting take on the character. And then was used to fuel nothing but clichés. All right there was one glimmer. Just one. Look, when a horse gets all the biggest laughs you know you have a problem unless your movie is only about the horse. This wasn't. But it should've been. I think the guy behind me said it best. As credits ran, they went back to some extra footage and he muttered "They made more? But why would they do that?" Why indeed. Adam P. Knave is an Eisner and Harvey writer and editor who has written fiction (STRANGE ANGEL, STAYS CRUNCHY IN MILK), comics (AMELIA COLE, ARTFUL DAGGERS, ACTION CATS, and more) and columns for sites such as threeifbyspace , PopCultureShock and MamaPop. He can be found online at and you can follow him on twitter @adampknave