Films mired in lengthy productions, delays, and other hazards, more often than not, signal red-flags to the quality of content that will transpire on the big screen. That’s not always the case, of course, but more often than not these publicized issues are harbingers of something foul. Jane Got a Gun, a modern revisionist western, nearly fell through the cracks with a series of pushed back dates going back all the way to 2014. I think I can guess why.
The film stars Natalie Portman as Jane Hammond, a frontierswoman in the empty and barrenness of New Mexico Territory, circa the 1870s. Things get started when her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) stumbling into their home riddled with bullets after a confrontation with the “Bishop Boys,” led by the villainous Colin McCann (Ewan McGregor); this group is practically the prototype of the unrefined and violent rough riders that usually run amok in westerns.
Under threat of the Bishops, Jane takes on the daunting task of defending her home and child, but knowing she can’t possibly do it on her own she seeks aid. Which brings to the picture Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton, who also served as one of the writers), her ex-husband. Frost is less than pleased to see Jane and harbors feelings of abandonment and resentment. Through flashbacks we find out what happened between them and why they are no longer together, separated by war, and presuming Frost was taken by the jaws of war, Jane moves on and finds a new life for herself.
The film saves its energy for the finale where it escalates with the defense of Jane’s home in an exhilarating gun fight. But other than its inoculating intro and third act, it doesn’t have much else to offer, which is unfortunate, as the film seems to have all the right elements to transcend the western genre. For starters, a western with a female lead is rare, but the story fails to find meaning in its premise, with clunky flashbacks that often feel confusing instead of lucid.
But that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its strong points, specifically in the acting department. As the headstrong Jane Portman is astoundingly adept at toting a gun and maneuvering through a male-run world with efficiency. She’s a pleasant surprise in a genre outside of her usual comfort zone, and is something I hope to see her expand in future roles. Nevertheless, the male actors deliver as well. Being a Joel Edgerton fan, I have no complaints with his portrayal of a bruised, ex-lover, helping out a gal in need. However, it’s Ewan McGregor, as the nefarious Colin, that takes the gold and quietly steals the show, lost in his role as a villainous scoundrel.
Perhaps Jane Got a Gun is a film that deserves a second viewing, but I’m not sure there’s much left to discover. I was left disappointedly unconvinced by the time the tumbleweeds passed and the dust settled, sad that what might have been an intriguing take on a stale genre was itself a stale imitation. Maybe it was the change of hands and turbulent production the film went through – simply to exist – that gives it a cold detachment; whatever energy and exuberance it might have had was lost somewhere along the line to time and indifference.