directed by Gore Verbinski
Who the hell would have thought that one of the best westerns of recent years would turn up in the form of a silly (the trailer would have you believe), fish out of water story, and a cartoon at that? Certainly not me, but that is exactly that case with Gore Verbinski’s excellent animated feature, Rango, featuring such delicious vocal talents as Bill Nighy, Harry Dean Stanton, Timothy Olyphant, Isla Fisher, Alfred Molina, Ray Winstone and, of course, Johnny Depp. The film is still silly at times, but the interesting thing about it is that Rango clearly isn’t concerned with being totally G (aka totally vanilla), and it clearly didn’t worry whether or not it may frighten the children for whom this film is allegedly designed. And what’s spectacular about the film is how it pays homage to the western greats of yore. You will see Corbucci, Leone, Kurosawa, Eastwood, even Ford, in Rango’s sprawling vistas, marvelous close ups of countenances as rugged as the scorched panoramas, and the semi mystical journeying of the title character, a domesticated pet lizard, hurled from a station wagon and into a foreign world of bandits, government toughs and pioneers with various levels of grit. The plot revolves around a town and its most precious (and limited) resource: water. When Rango shows up with a cock and bull story about killing seven men with one bullet, he takes the post as the town’s new sheriff, determined to clean up the town (aptly named Dirt) and end the drought. I don’t want to get into too much here, otherwise I will ramble on about how well thought out, artful, and even genius John Logan’s (who wrote such films as The Aviator and Gladiator) script is at times, but I will say that Olyphant’s arrival at the film’s turning point (just after a very harrowing scene, particularly for a children’s film) marks a point when the film turns its shit up to eleven, promptly blowing my mind and effectively losing even the most mannerly children equipped with longer than average attention spans. Rocking a stellar Eastwood voice, the Spirit of the West (that’s actually Olyphant’s character name) is a rough shadow of his former self, wandering the desert scavenging trinkets (among which are film awards, hint hint). If anyone would like to have an existential conversation about how awesome this sequence is in itself, you know where to find me. Roger Deakins has redeemed himself after his questionable work in the True Grit remake, rustling up some truly mind boggling cinematography. Mr. Deakins, I cannot gush enough. Depp finds his inner Terence Hill, blending the serious and the silly to very good effect as Rango. Casual film goers may find this film frustrating as it doesn’t stay fluffy enough to be a family film, but in a quasi-attempt not to alienate everyone, treads the line between light and dark. True fans of westerns, however, will love it. I actually had low expectations for the film and, frankly, I was blown away.