By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist June 23, 2011 at 12:58PM
There's nothing that can make a director look good in retrospect as someone else coming into the franchise that they birthed and messing it up even more than it already was, and that's what happened to Gore Verbinski in the last month or so. The second and third entries in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series might have been bloated and CGI-heavy (although not without their charms, we'd argue), but they were "Raiders of the Lost Ark" compared to Rob Marshall's recent fourth installment, and if nothing else it's reminded us that Verbinski is a more talented director than many of his tentpole competition.
The helmer is gearing up to reunite with the Pirates team for "The Lone Ranger," another attempt to give a well-worn genre a supernatural, big-budget spin, reviving the classic pulp character again aided by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and 'Pirates' scribes Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Johnny Depp has long been set to play Native American sidekick Tonto, "The Social Network" breakout Armie Hammer was recently locked into the title role, and now it looks as if they have someone to square off against, as Variety reports that Oscar-nominated British actor Tom Wilkinson is in the early stages of talks to join the project.
If the deal comes through, the actor, last seen in "The Green Hornet" and "The Conspirator," would play a railroad tycoon, a part that it's safe to say would be an antagonist of some kind. In the Elliot/Rossio draft of the script we have, dated March 2009, there's no part directly matching that description, but there's a close one: Landry Cole, a wealthy man aiming to make a killing with a silver mine who *spoiler* Tonto believes is possessed by the Wendigo, a cannibalistic Native American spirit. The script has subsequently been rewritten by Justin Haythe ("Revolutionary Road"), but we imagine Wilkinson will fill a similar role in the finished film.
We'd be lying if we said that we were eagerly anticipating this one, despite our fondness for Verbinski's better work: we've been burned too many times by Depp's recent tentpoles. But that early draft isn't too bad, like "Cowboys & Aliens" a surprisingly straight-laced Western, far less wacky in tone than the 'Pirates' franchise (and we imagine Haythe's involvement hasn't changed that much), Hammer's perfectly cast in the lead, and Wilkinson always improves everything he's in. Filming will get underway in the fall, and the film's set for release on December 21st, 2012, going head to head with another Western, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," which follows four days later.