With Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as the eponymous protagonist and Johnny Depp treading similar ground as Captain Jack Sparrow with his version of his sidekick Tonto, this was odds on to be a winner. However, the film was plagued by production issues and was in fact at one point even cancelled mid filming. But with an inflated budget of £225 million, they just about managed to scrape something together.
The last half an hour met my initial expectations and was as daft as it was brilliant with a terrific double train chase, and nods to the silent comedians of the characters original creation, Keaton and Chaplin in the 30’s. However, the cartoonish slapstick was a complete change of direction from the proceeding 2 hours of cold-blooded murder, political issues and mass genocide. With someone’s heart getting eaten whilst they are still alive, and hundreds of Native Indians senselessly slaughtered, it begs the question how and why Disney choose to make something so dark and only give it a 12A rating?
The film’s cast is superb with support coming from Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper and Helena Bonham Carter, but it’s not enough to lift a poor script and overextended middle act. The film also looks great, the whole western genre is fantastically realised, and you can certainly tell that the budget was put to good use, but it just can’t make up its mind about what it is trying to be. It seems to develop into a serious drama about cowboys and the pursuit for silver, but then every now and again seems to remember that it is a Disney film and makes Depp say something silly for the kids or have someone getting hit in the head with a spade.
Depp, who is increasingly moving more into family-friendly big-money roles, does in fact have lots of quick quips as the jokey sidekick Tonto but although most of them barely raise a smile, the funniest line of the film is his reaction to Hammer’s final ride-off into the sunset, returning, probably with the inevitable sequel in a couple of years’ time. He is also the films narrator and his story is told throughout to a child, another sign that it is going to be a lengthy film.
In conclusion, if you are a fan of the Pirates films, then you will probably enjoy this too, but to anyone older than 12, it is basically a very camp version of Deadwood, and I was half expecting Ian McShane to turn up and call someone an expletive at some point but unfortunately this didn’t happen.