May 3, 2023 (NYC)- One Ranger (2023) Has True Grit. Jesse V. Johnson has done it again. His new film, One Ranger, starring Thomas Jane, hits theaters and Digital this week. It is an antidote to both the special effects driven Franchise films, as well as the highly esoteric independent films, of the past decade. It is a very worthwhile investment of your viewing time.
British Intelligence meets Texas Justice in this white-knuckle action-thriller. A gunslinging Texas ranger (Thomas Jane) tracks a bank robber (Dean Jagger) across the desert — only to discover he’s an international terrorist set on detonating a bomb in the heart of London. When the lawman’s partner is killed, he is drawn into partnership with a British intelligence agent (Dominique Tipper) and her boss (John Malkovich) to bring the outlaw to justice — dead or alive.”
One Ranger is in the structure of a Western with a modern flair. The film, in some respects, is Henry Hathaway’s True Grit meets James Bond; however, to try to reduce its description to a cliche is not to do the film justice. One of the truly compelling aspects of the film is how it manages to effectively incorporate the elements of the Western genre with modern spy and action films without feeling disjointed, or seeming to be confused about its identity. This film has a solid through line, steeped in the Classic Western genre, which provides part of the reasons it works so well.
From the opening moments of the film we meet the grizzled and persistent main character, played masterfully by Thomas Jane. We learn that he is a law enforcement presence to be reckoned with. He is smart, persistent, and a marksmen in the most literal sense. He establishes himself as, not only the namesake of the film, but as a character we are anxious to know more about.
As the film’s plot unfolds Jane finds himself in an unlikely partnership with British intelligence tracking an international terrorist that murdered his deputy. For any other film, and any other Director, this dichotomous approach to genres could have gone very, very wrong- but not here. It makes for an interesting, engaging, and well done action film. The film is violent and filled with action, but the violence here is not gratuitous, and not excessive. Everything here has its place.
In last year’s review of Johnson’s White Elephant I wrote, “Johnson has a penchant for broken characters with characteristics that make it hard not to look past their awful deeds, and be romanced by them in their quasi-redemption. This is true whether he is the writer and Director of his own material like Savage Dog, Accident Man, or the brilliant Debt Collector films; or whether he is Directing someone else’s story, like Nina Bergman in the masterful, Hell Hath No Fury.” Thomas Jane’s character fits this bill, to a degree. While we don’t know too much about his past, he does seem to be a more righteous and upstanding character than many of Johnson’s leads; not because he is a lawman, but simply because that is his essence.
Thomas Jane really nails this role. He manages to play this closely guarded character with the posture that has the audience routing for him, loving his refusal to compromise his values (or wardrobe), and wanting more. While there are times in the movie his role harkens to more hyperbolic anti-heroes, like Rambo, The Punisher, or, even, Dirty Harry he never breaks from the framework of the realistic foundation set for him early on by Jane and Johnson- he avoids going for the pithy line, or the violent action, that would, initially, be satisfying but cheapen the film. I think there is enough substance here to substantiate future installments of a “One Ranger Series” of films.
Dominique Tipper is very substantial as the British intelligence agent trying to be the bridge between the formality of British protocol and Jane’s personal and unique style of pursuing this dangerous terrorist. She is a great companion to Jane’s character, as well as a singular force to be reckoned with.
Dean Jagger’s performance is one of the highlights of the film. At any moment, the easy path would have been to play his character as an “over the top” mega villain with hard edges and a maniacal demeanor. He could have morphed into a comic book villain, easily. That is not the path chosen here. Jagger is a ruthless and bad guy, as well as a formidable foe in this film; however, he is oddly relatable and, somewhat, sympathetic in Jagger’s performance. He is very good in One Ranger.
The leading characters are well supported by a strong cast, many that afficionados of Johnson’s films might recognize. John Malkovich returns to Johnson’s stable as a British intelligence division head, balancing the goal of capturing the terrorist and reigning in this Texas Lawman. Malkovich’s role is not large, but not one second he is on the screen is wasted-this is Malkovich in top form.
The cinematography, action, and violence is at the level you can expect from a Jesse V. Johnson film. We have always remarked that no modern filmmaker can do more with a modest film budget than Johnson. His films are fun to watch and One Ranger is no exception. Violence, gun play, and bloodshed abound, and is well placed. The fight choreography is gritty and realistic.
While I have been fortunate enough to interview Johnson twice, I am still truly in awe of how deep his appreciation, understanding, and homage to good film runs. This film is shot, particularly, the Texas range scenes, in a classic style. There are several shots of Jane shooting, and even drinking from his canteen, that have such a deliberate feel they are stunning. It is well shot and well edited.
I love Johnson films. This is one of his best. I highly recommend One Ranger.
One Ranger will release in select theaters and VOD on May 5, with a physical media release (DVD/Blue-ray) shortly after on June 13, 2023.
-Review by Marc Zirogiannis