Jane Got a Gun
Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook
Gavin O’Conner’s female western was plagued by production and post production problems that sealed its fate. Produced by Oscar winner Portman, co-written by Edgerton, this not so daring western had all the ingredients for something special, but like the Tommy Lee Jones / Hilary Swank western, never carves out its own unique piece of the genre. “Good people never turn bad,” a beautiful 1871 Portman says to her daughter while telling her a story about an upside down tree. Of course that’s our cue that this film is about to get violent, but we already knew that since most westerns exist only for revenge purposes. If you ever wanted to see half the cast of Star Wars in a western, here is your chance as Edgerton, Portman and McGregor all stared in the prequels.
When Bill Hammond (Emmerich) returns home half dead, his wife Jane (Portman) knows what this means. She and Bill escaped the Bishop gang years ago and have been hiding out in New Mexico ever since. Before their marriage, Bill was a ruthless member of the dangerous gang. He saved the abducted woman and her child from John Bishop (McGregor) when he sold her into prostitution. “Life stopped being something you live, just something you endure”, Jane says. Her life before Bill was one filled with love and happiness with Dan Frost (Edgerton), who went off to war and didn’t return until it was too late. Now her former lover must help her fight off the Bishop gang and protect the homestead.
It’s a brooding film that bills itself as a female western, but Portman’s Jane feels as helpless as most determined women in Hollywood westerns.
Gavin O. Conner’s previous film Warrior with Edgerton was a mainstream re-introduction to the actor, writer, director who is now one of Hollywood’s most sought after artists. Their collaboration here leaves much to be desired as it caters to the stereotypes of the western genre. It’s a brooding film that bills itself as a female western, but Portman’s Jane feels as helpless as most determined women in Hollywood westerns. Everyone in the film has a gun, so the title really makes no sense besides the false advertising of putting forth a co-female lead. It’s really the script that undermines the film as the flashbacks are poorly edited into the progress of the narrative. Westerns are typically slower paced films to begin with and halting the progression of the story with so many flashbacks to give character development seems like poor organization of the narrative on the filmmaker’s part.
“They come to my house, I gotta protect it. Whatever happens I gotta put my face to it,” Jane says vowing to fight till the death. The story sets itself up fairly quickly in the first moment Jane seeks Dan for help. You don’t have to be a huge western connoisseur or film expert to predict her former lover will come around, they will have a battle and someone will ride off into the sunset. However, it’s the veracity in Portman’s performance that makes the film sustainable, Edgerton rarely disappoints regardless of his involvement in a project. Mid film there is a flashback that ties everything from Jane’s past to the present and suddenly the movie makes more sense and gives the audience a reason to stick it out until the end.
Portman’s performance is nearly lost in a mediocre script that wallows in stereotypes.