Movie Review: Jane Got a Gun (2016)
“She turned to her past to protect her family.”
Jane Got a Gun (2016)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Cast: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor
Synopsis: A woman asks her ex-lover for help in order to save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him.
Getting a Western made these days is tough enough – unless you’re Tarantino or DiCaprio – so securing the finance for one that’s told from a woman’s perspective must be doubly difficult. Kudos, then, to the talent behind Jane Got a Gun for even making it happen. You done good, boys. It’s just a shame the film’s solid story is let down by some uneven pacing and a clumsy structure which undermines some decent performances from a talented cast. Acolytes
If you’re interested in Jane Got a Gun you probably already know its troubled history. At various times, Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jude Law were all set to strap on their gun-belts for feisty Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, but she jumped ship on the eve of shooting, claiming the producer’s were trying to railroad her into making an entirely different movie to the one she signed on to make. Law bailed shortly after, stating he only signed on for the chance to work with Ramsay, and was followed by Darius Khondji, the film’s original cinematographer. Fassbender and Cooper found work elsewhere. Joel Edgerton, who was set to play bad-guy John Bishop switched black hat for white (off-white, anyway) to become Dan Frost, and even got to help Anthony Tambakis re-write Brian Duffield’s original screenplay – which may or may not explain why his romantic rival spends most of the movie lying on his belly. Tough times in Tinseltown, then, but at least, three years after it was made, Jane Got a Gun has finally made it to our screens.
That rival I wrote about is Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich), a former outlaw who returns home to his wife, the titular Jane (Natalie Portman – Leon, Heat), and young daughter with a few more holes in him than when he left, courtesy of the guns of gentleman outlaw John Bishop (Ewan McGregor – Perfect Sense, Haywire) and his gang. Even worse, the Bishop boys aren’t more than a few day’s ride behind him, and Ham’s in no fit state to defend his home. Jane has no choice but to implore former lover Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton – Acolytes, Warrior) for his help, which, as we later learn, isn’t the first time she’s had to swallow her pride in order to survive. Of course, with a spurned lover’s reflexive spite, Frost lets her stew for a while before deciding that a world with a Jane who doesn’t want to know him is better than a world with a Jane who’s cold in the ground.
Things are chugging along nicely up to this point, but its from here until the final reel that Jane Got a Gun begins to tread water. The predictable tensions between the threesome simmer constantly without ever really coming to the boil, and a drunken declaration from Dan to Ham that he has every intention of diddling the dying man’s wife when he’s gone serves only to make the guy who’s supposed to be the hero look like something of a tool. The history of these three is slowly revealed to us in a series of clumsily inserted flashbacks which badly disrupt the film’s narrative flow. To be fair, it’s difficult to see how else the story could be structured, and the regular returns to the past are presumably intended to break up what is essentially one long build up to a final confrontation, but they still feel as if they’re intruding upon the storyline rather than complementing it. Subsequently, the plot never really gains any traction, and everyone just seems to be kicking their heels until Bishop and his gang finally arrive.
Natalie Portman, who also co-produced, bears none of the ravages of a tough life in 1870s New Mexico, but she still makes Jane a believable character who might have learned that life for a woman in the West is a series of tough and often savoury compromises, but has not necessarily accepted that as her lot. Edgerton mumbles his lines and glowers moodily, but never loses sight of the good man lurking within Frost’s taciturn manner, but while McGregor, as the kind of villain you can imagine tying maidens to railroad tracks, seems to have wondered in from an altogether more dynamic movie, he’s nevertheless deserving of more screen time simply because he’s so enjoyable to watch.
After a leaden middle act, Jane Got a Gun rouses itself for a well-staged gunfight before finishing on another low note with a melodramatic conclusion that’s both corny and dated. It’s still worth a look for the performances and the relative novelty value of its female heroine, but it won’t stay long in your memory.
(Reviewed 25th April 2016)