Wednesday, 16 March 2011


2011. Dir: Gore Verbinski. Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy. ●●●●○

Chinatown, Pale Rider, Cat Ballou, Apocalypse Now, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Off the top of my head there are just a tiny number of the films that Rango either knocks off or pays homage to (depending on your point of view). I could probably go on to name at least five or six more. It's such a cine-literate film it's unbelieveable. That in itself would be a good enough reason to watch this animated movie. The good news is that as well as fusing all these elements it also happens to be laugh out loud funny, combining a touch of the surreal to the animated format. Just don't bother bringing the kids.

The film opens with Johnny Depp's unnamed Chameleon performing a virtual one-lizard show (his co-stars are plastic toys and dead bugs) of derring-do in his safe, comfortable glass cage. Not for long, as his owners lose him off the parcel shelf as they cross the Mojave desert. Pretty soon he's invented the persona of Rango and cleaning up the town of Dirt from it's least pleasant inabitants whilst falling for ranch owner Beans (Isla Fisher).

The comparisons to Chinatown are most striking. Once the story gets going the central mystery about water being dumped in the desert, as well as lines and even characters seem to be lifted directly from Roman Polanski's 1974 Noir masterpiece. With that in mind the identity of the bad guy comes as no surprise as it's the character most similar to Noah Cross - thanks to Ned Beatty for his delightful voice impersonation.

The action sequences are paced well both in terms of individually and where they fit in the film running. The initial crash sequence is slow enough to get a sense of what's happening, building tension, before it catches up into real time with a jolt and the central chase sequence involving a wagon, bats and The Ride of the Valkyries is both hilarious and edge of the seat stuff. Only the final showdown with Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) seems a slight let down - but then most Westerns disappoint with the fianl battle, even when they're basing the plan on Carry on Cowboy.

Slower moments are provided with the two dream sequences. The first goes in Dali surrealism territory, whilst the second has a mad Clint Eastwood (as voiced by Timothy Olyphant) cameo. There's also a scene by the fireside which speaks to the moral of the movie and is the closest we'll come to tears as audience members.

The design of the film is fantastic, from the always engaging characters (even the background figures are unique and funny and suitably disgusting) to the dryness of the vistas and at times star trails and mirages are so close to being real you doubt whether it's an animation at all. It was also a clever move to keep this in 2D. Any conversion of sterescope would have meant a serious reduction in the light somewhat destroying the illusion of desert heat.

The performances are all great, with Depp and Beatty in particular shining, from a cast outside of Depp who are not so famous it seems like stunt casting.

I would question though whether this is a film for kids at all. Some of the humour is either too bawdy - "Our Mother had an active social life" - or too over the heads of small children - prostate examinations? Most of it is also derived from the references which most kids won't understand. That's not to say they will be bored - there's ample belching and action to keep them entertained but be under no illusions this is a film for the parents even more than it is for their children that force them to go.


Alex in Movieland said...

I've actually "refused" to see this today, but I might give it a try next winter, when I'll find a screener. to me, there's nothing attractive about the story.
but it might be good indeed... a friend is seeing it tonight, I'm curious what she'll also think.

so let me get this: u saw Rango, but not Toy Story 3? :/


Runs Like A Gay said...

You should see it, Alex, I can heartily recommend, especially for fans of Westerns. (The advertising doesn't give it half as much credit as it deserves.)

With regards to Toy Story not only did I not watch the third one but I haven't seen either of the others!

I'm bad, aren't I?

Alex in Movieland said...

well, I can beat that: I've never seen West Side Story!
beat that, Ben!! :P

Runs Like A Gay said...

I've never seen Fight Club.

Does that win?