An open letter about film critics to the makers of ‘The Lone Ranger’

First, let me preface this by saying I can’t believe you took the bait. That question was designed to get you to crap all over critics in response to their reaction to your movie, and you seem like you couldn’t wait to answer the question. That’s a shame.

Let’s start with the premise that critics prejudged your movie.

I think it is presumptuous to assume that you know why critics reacted the way they did to “The Lone Ranger,” other than the actual reasons stated in whatever bad reviews you’re talking about. I can’t tell you why anyone else didn’t like it, but as a critic who really, really didn’t like your movie, I feel compelled now to defend my review to you, if only to challenge your comments during a recent interview for the UK release of the film. Besides, if there’s any movie this summer that gets to play the “critics just wanted to beat the crap out of us” victim card, it’s “After Earth,” not “The Lone Ranger.”

And if that is how critics decide to beat things up, wouldn’t “John Carter” have suffered the same fate last year? Because I think a lot of critics ended up being pleasantly surprised by that, and their buzz was way worse than yours ever was. I know I liked it.

As I said, I’m speaking here for no one but myself. I considered writing this as a short news item about the comments you made, but there are tons of those already, and the truth is, I was personally bothered by the comments. I’m not irritated in the abstract sense, but rather in the specific sense.

After all, I’ve had many encounters with you gentlemen over the years. When you were building up to the release of the second “Pirates” film, you reached out to me, and that began a series of conversations and encounters, and in the interest of clarity, I’m going to list those, and let’s see if this reveals some hidden bias that has just been waiting for the perfect moment to spring it on you.

I was at “Ain’t It Cool” when the first film came out, and I considered it a pleasant surprise. As they were counting down to the second one, I got invited to come to the editing room to meet Verbinski and Bruckheimer and talk to them about what they were doing. And, gentlemen, I was happy to do so. As I wrote in that editing room visit, the first “Pirates” was a film where they were wild rumors during production about what you were doing, and about how badly Disney was reacting to it. None of that mattered once people saw the film, of course, and that’s true most of the time when there are troubled films. If people like the movie, they like the movie. Period.

I enjoyed “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” quite a bit, and when I was invited to talk to Verbinski towards the end of post-production on “At World’s End,” I was happy to do it. Again, I was impressed by the energy of the filmmaking, by the scale of what you guys were trying to do, and by the imagination on display. I enjoyed the final version of the film as well, and not just because of the visual end of things. I really liked the dense and loopy mythology of the films, and I think they’ll be fun to introduce the kids to in a few years.

So I’m trying to imagine why anyone who had covered those films that way would be said to be out to get another film from the same people. Did I get the knives out for “Rango”? I remember when they released the first teaser trailer, which was just plain weird, and I was excited to see them slowly reveal what the film was going to be. I interviewed Depp on that film…

… as well as Verbinski, and I really loved the way they played with Western tropes. It was obvious to me that Verbinski had a huge fondness not just for the Old West, but for the way Hollywood digested the legends of the West and the way they dealt with those ideas.

So if I’m reading this interview from this week correctly, you guys now believe that critics decided they were going to pile on and kill “The Lone Ranger” when reports of its first budget crisis hit. I decided to go back and check on my own coverage of the film over time to see if that was true.

There’s this report from last October, where I seemed curious about the footage we saw and I talked about liking the narration. Then in December, I wrote about the second trailer, and wouldn’t you know it? It still seems fairly positive overall. Surely then, it must have been when the final trailer came out that I started to reveal my anti-“Lone Ranger” agenda, right?

Oh… wait… nope. Not at all. In fact, I felt at that point that “The Lone Ranger” was a safe bet to be one of the more interesting films of the summer, and I seemed ready to see the film and enjoy it.

I wonder if you guys felt sandbagged because I didn’t tell you at the press day how I felt about the movie. After all, I talked to Hammer, Depp, Bruckheimer, and Verbinski there.

I always consider the interviews to be the filmmakers telling me what they think they’ve made, and my review is my chance to say if I agree or not. I didn’t attack you at the press day because, even if I didn’t like this movie, I respect the lot of you, and that would have been wildly inappropriate.

Gore, I remember when I finished with my interview with you, which seemed like it lasted all of two minutes, and you said to the Disney publicist, “Come on. This is Drew. We can’t keep going some more?” I won’t lie. I enjoyed hearing that from you. I look forward to checking in with you on each of your future films, and even in my final “Lone Ranger” review, I talked about what I believe your undeniable strengths are as a filmmaker.

But now, a month or so later, you’re circling the wagons around the film and the only explanation you have for why critics didn’t like it is that they decided not to like it months ago?

Really, guys?

Look, you’ve already got guys like Matt Zoller Seitz out there, beating the drum for the movie as a misunderstood gem. I’m sure in time you’ll have a decent reputation as a movie that was unfairly judged. I don’t agree, and I did give the film a second chance about two weeks after it came out. I was curious to see if my first reaction was just me as a parent being irritated by your choices, or if I really didn’t like the film itself. That second viewing only made me more sure that as much as I like the ambition, the execution here doesn’t work for me. I don’t like the framing device. I don’t really like the choices about how to play the two main characters. I don’t think the bad guy is terribly compelling. And I don’t think it says anything about the Old West, real or romanticized, that I haven’t heard before.

But if you honestly think that I slit your movie’s throat on purpose, then that also means that you don’t believe my earlier positive reviews of your work were sincere, either. After all, if I’m reviewing based on some agenda, then none of my work should be treated as genuine, and if that’s what you’re suggesting, then I’m actually offended. I think it’s one thing to stand up for your film and say, “I think you’re wrong about this, and here’s why,” and another thing altogether to accuse critics of lying and pursuing a vendetta because of budget or production history or whatever.

You feel bruised by the reviews? You want someone to apologize? That’s a conversation you can have, but not when you’re calling critics liars. I think that’s a poor move across the board, and Depp of all people should know that critical reaction and box office response have nothing to do with each other. After all, before Gore gave you the chance to reinvent yourself, Johnny, you were in a whole slew of movies that were well-liked by critics and utterly ignored by the public. Do you think the rabid support I threw behind “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas” or “Dead Man” or “Ed Wood” was all decided by me based on an agenda?

Or do you think that maybe, just maybe, this one just didn’t connect the way you hoped it would?

Talented people make terrible movies sometimes. It happens. It is amazing that it doesn’t happen every time when you consider how many things have to come together to make something truly special, and if your reaction the first time one of your megamovies gets rejected is to immediately blame everyone else for that, it seems to me that you don’t really remember recent history, and that you’re not as genuine as you’ve seemed to be. After all, I’m a firm believer that when someone accuses you of something unethical, what they’re really doing is telling you what they’d do given the same opportunities.

I say all of this with all due respect. I just wish I felt that that was something that worked both ways here, and after your comments, I no longer believe that to be true.


The Guy Who Gave “The Lone Ranger” a “D”