For a Western plagued with so many setbacks, it is a miracle the troubled production ‘Jane Got a Gun’ finally landed in movie theaters. The good news is that it is not as bad as people feared but unfortunately it fires blanks. When the original director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk about Kevin) left the project by not showing up on the film’s first day of shooting, the producers scrambled to find a suitable replacement in Gavin O’Connor (Warrior). The role of the main villain shifted from Jude Law to Bradley Cooper and finally settled on Ewan McGregor. Australian actor Joel Edgerton helped touch up the script and was recast in the good guy role. Credit must be given to the star and co-producer Natalie Portman for her perseverance in seeing this beleaguered project to its completion.
The story is set in New Mexico circa 1871. Former outlaw Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) rides home with his back filled full of lead. As Jane (Portman) plucks out the slugs and cauterizes the wounds in a gritty sequence, Bill takes swigs of whiskey telling his wife The Bishop Boys are coming for vengeance. Jane wastes no time taking her daughter to a friend’s ranch for safekeeping. Although Jane is a strong, independent pioneer woman, she has no other choice but to recruit her ex-fiancé Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) for assistance. She tells him, “I need a gunslinger” when he replies back “You need a goddam regiment.” Through the use of flashbacks, we learn more about their backstory and how Jane ended up moving out West with Bill instead of Dan. The flashbacks are a good device to reveal plot but in this case it gives the film a muddled and stifled effect. One memory in particular shows Jane and Dan running through a meadow to take a romantic balloon ride. It feels completely out of sync with the rest of the story.
O’Connor ratchets up the tension but there a few things missing to make it stand out. For one, some of the characters are not fleshed out enough. The two main leads Portman and Edgerton do an adequate job in their respective roles but there is a noticeable void. For a film titled ‘Jane Got a Gun,’ Portman seems a bit too dainty for the role. No doubt, she is a talent to be reckoned with but as the heroine you expect her to be more skilled with a six-shooter. One of the best scenes deals with mason jars, kerosene and rusty nails. You get the feeling that Portman is finding inspiration from the 1971 Raquel Welch Western ‘Hannie Caulder.’ The dialogue in ‘Jane Got a Gun’ is rugged and actually comes across as more realistic than Quentin Tarantino’s monologue-laden ‘The Hateful Eight.’ For fans of the Western genre, the climax is a fitting pay off.
The main villain John Bishop is played to the hilt by McGregor with a twirling moustache. McGregor is a talented actor but his character comes across as cartoonish and not convincing. It is never completely explained why he is so obsessed with Jane. One grisly flashback shows their connection but again the device proves more of a hindrance than anything else. Another problem is the direction by O’Connor. He does a decent job but the tone of the film lacks style. It seems as though with all the production delays, O’Connor just wanted to get the damn picture made without anymore fanfare. You get the sense that when the director shouted “that’s a wrap” the entire production team let out a huge sigh of relief including Portman. Thankfully The Weinstein Company saved the film from limbo when the original distributor Relativity Media went bankrupt.
With so few Westerns being made today, it is refreshing to see one with a reasonably strong heroine as the focal point of the story. Overall ‘Jane Got a Gun’ is decent entertainment but unfortunately feels underwhelming. It’s not a bad movie but one that is worth catching snuggled on your couch as a rental. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/QniNBM1gBVk.