Jane Got a Gun
2016, R, 98 min. Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 5, 2016
Come expecting a feminist Western and you’ll be sorely disappointed. This film, which Natalie Portman produced and stars in as the titular Jane, offers little to the genre that’s new or exciting. Jane may get her own gun in this Western, but she also depends on the services of the bona fide gunfighter Dan Frost (Edgerton, who also co-authored the screenplay). Frost also happens to be Jane’s former beau, and that’s how the roiling romance story (with numerous flashbacks) begins. Jane Got a Gun is more romance in an Old West setting than Western with a romantic angle, and the story’s action is perpetually interrupted to unfold the couple’s backstory, and never lets up until they ride off into the sunset at the end.
Handsomely mounted and mildly engaging, Jane Got a Gun tells a familiar story about the struggles faced by women 150 years ago. The film opens in the New Mexico territory in 1871 as Jane’s husband Bill Hammond (Emmerich) returns home half-dead with gunshot wounds in his back, courtesy of the Bishop boys, a fearsome gang with whom the pair has had previous tangles. (Wait for the flashbacks; everything will be explained – eventually). Jane promptly parks her little girl with a neighbor, rides to Dan’s place to beseech his help, then returns home to protect her land and her husband. Before long, the Bishop gang will come to call.
To a certain extent, the film comes by its ragged nature rightly due to its troubled path to the cinema screen. The difficulties began when disagreements caused the original director Lynne Ramsay to withdraw from the film one day before shooting. Numerous male stars came, went, and swapped roles before shooting eventually began with a new director. After it was finished, Jane became a victim of the bankruptcy of Relativity, its backing studio, and then had its release delayed further once getting picked up by the Weinstein Company, which decided not to preview the film for critics. Even the film’s Paris premiere was canceled after Jane had been unfortunately scheduled to debut on the night of the terrorist attacks at the Bataclan and elsewhere in Paris. You have to feel a certain sympathy for a project as cursed as this one, but there’s no denying that Jane’s gun barely grazes its target.