US Release Date: 01-29-2016
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
- Natalie Portman, as
- Jane Hammond
- Joel Edgerton, as
- Dan Frost
- Ewan McGregor, as
- Colin McCann
- Rodrigo Santoro, as
- Noah Emmerich, as
- Bill Hammond
- Boyd Holbrook, as
- Alex Manette, as
- Todd Stashwick, as
- James Burnett, as
- Cunny Charlie
- Sam Quinn, as
- Slow Jeremiah
- Chad Brummett, as
- Boots Southerland, as
- Nash Edgerton, as
- Fur Trader
- Robb Janov as
Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton in Jane Got a Gun.
Jane Got a Gun had a rocky road to the big screen. Original director Lynne Ramsay dropped out just before shooting began following a clash with the studio. Cinematographer Darius Khondji and star Jude Law walked off the film in solidarity with her. Michael Fassbender was originally cast in the Dan Frost part, but he left after clashing with Ramsay. Bradley Cooper was signed to replace Law, but then he was forced to quit due to scheduling conflicts. It would be nice if I could say that the finished product of all this turmoil turned out to be an unexpected masterpiece, but the results are as mediocre as its January release date would lead you to believe.
Natalie Portman stars as the Jane of the title. When the movie begins she's living in the butt end of the Old West with her husband and young daughter. Her peaceful life is shattered when her husband returns home one day filled with bullets and the news that the Bishop boys are on their way. The rest of the movie is told in two timelines. In one we see Jane and Dan (Edgerton), a former flame and neighbor of hers, preparing her farm for the impending attack by a gang of outlaws, and in the other we see in flashback just why the Bishops are tracking this couple down.
The film's biggest problem is its somber tone, which makes its 98 minute running time feel much longer. It's telling a serious story, but a little comic relief would have helped move the action along. This is an old fashioned western tale of revenge, but there's no joy to be found in any of it, even when the bad guys are getting their comeuppance. Granted, Jane goes through several life altering, troubling incidents, but this is a movie after all, and we, the audience, as well as Jane, deserve some sort of satisfaction. What comes here, comes at the end and it feels like a case of too little, too late.
Despite the many cast changes, it's still the film's stars that are the best things in it. Portman makes an effective Western heroine. She's beautiful, but in a believable way. This isn't a revisionist Western. She dresses appropriately and doesn't suddenly turn into a gunslinger. Edgerton is equally effective as the ex-boyfriend wearing his heart on his sleeve. McGregor brings a little slimy spark as the villain and if he'd been allowed to play it a bit more over the top he might have provided the missing fun, but in the end, he's just another stereotypical bad guy who doesn't know when to shut up and shoot.
With The Hateful Eight and The Revenant, and now this, the Western is almost having a mini-revival. However, if this is the best Hollywood can manage to do with the genre, I doubt it's a revival that will last long.
Ewan McGregor in Jane Got a Gun.
There's nothing really wrong with this picture in the sense that what it does it does fairly well. It's a somber low key western with a solid cast. I was drawn into Jane's world and became invested in her fate. However, as Scott already pointed out, it's seriously lacking in humor. I can't recall a single lighthearted moment. It takes itself far more seriously than a movie titled Jane Got a Gun would lead you to expect. I could have done with a bit more action as well.
I did love Natalie Portman as an old west heroine. Joel Edgerton is equally good as the man pining for his former love and Ewan McGregor is the very picture of a black-hatted, mustachioed villain (see photo). If only they had been allowed to play these characters bigger. They are all kept in check by the rather dull script and as a result these archetypes are almost boring. The things that happen to Jane are straight out of a nineteenth century melodrama so why not at least acknowledge that with an occasional wink to the audience?
I will give credit to the art direction, costumes, and cinematography. I can't find fault with any visual aspect of the picture. So while I did enjoy some aspects of Jane Got a Gun it really needs more spark, humor and action to be called either a solid piece of movie entertainment or a truly memorable western.
Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun
Yeah, Jane Got a Gun is definitely missing something. As real as this all looks and as authentic as the characters seem, I never felt truly drawn in or emotionally concerned for Jane's or Dan's fate. As my brothers wrote, it also needed some lighter moments and a little spark.
In flashback we see that a young Dan and Jane were in love but we never get enough characterization to wholly care to see them get back together. Sure, we do because the story tells us to but I was never caught up in their reunion. We needed at least one more flashback where they made love and confessed all kinds of affection for each other. All we are shown is a frolic through a field, a kiss on a balloon ride and a subdued argument about Dan going to war. Likewise when it comes to Jane and Bill. He falls for her but we never see why. We do however, see why she is so loyal to him. It is the one motivating factor that is made clear. There is one moment where both Dan and Bill get shot and Dan takes note that Jane concerns herself more with Bill's wound than his.
Speaking of getting shot, I was brought out of the story by both leads taking a bullet because moments later they act as if they never did. The worst is when Dan takes a shotgun blast so powerful that it sends him flying some ten feet backward and through a closed door. He bleeds, holds his wounds and groans some but minutes later it seems to no longer concern or inconvenient him in anyway. The same can be said of Jane taking a bullet at close range. She bleeds, groans and then Dan tightens a belt around the wound and makes it all better. Huh?
As my brothers wrote, Ewan McGregor is playing vile but we are again missing at least one scene where he shows us just how vile he can be. Sure, he is the bad guy but he gets barely any more screen time than the rest of his gang. His role was easily the one that should have been played bigger. Another way to add some humor would have been to include some old crotchety man or woman who just happened to live with Jane for any number of excuses. Picture Ruth Gordon in Every Which Way but Loose (1978) or Will Geer in Jeremiah Johnson (1972).
Again agreeing with my brothers, the look of the film and the cast are the best thing about this production. The writing is not bad either. I liked how it unfolded, sometimes learning the past as the characters did. It even has a few good lines. My favorite being when Dan is pointing his gun at a gang member and asks him how many are in it. The baddie answers, "Maybe ten... maybe a hundred." Dan shoots him and responds with frost between his lips, "Minus one."
The weakness is in the directing and editing. Why am I seeing Portman through Bill's point of view when she checks on him in bed. The camera should have been on Dan and his restrained jealous reaction. We need to see on his face just how hard it is for him to be risking his own life to save the man who is married to his true love. For some reason, the climactic battle at the desert home was filmed entirely from inside. We are never shown what the gang is doing outside unless Dan or Jane look out of a window. It could have been interesting if the entire film had been made without ever showing much of the bad guys up close but at this point in the story it was too late to change ideas.
Western films represent a sense of freedom and usually feature plenty of lawlessness that likewise plays into that very same feeling of being able to do what you want, just as long as your horse can out run the sheriff's. They often contain characters written in black and white. You easily know who is the good guy and who is the bad. Jane Got a Gun follows these staples but it never quite comes together well enough. This is one film where I believe a different editor could have possibly made a world of difference.
Photos © Copyright Weinstein Company, The (2016)