Review: Jane Got a Gun
PLOT: After her husband is nearly killed, a woman must seek out her ex-lover to help protect her family from a deadly gang looking for blood.
REVIEW: The most surprising thing about the latest western featuring Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton is not only that it actually got made, but it’s actually not bad. In fact, this wild west tale is much better than it has any right to be. After problems with one director (Lynne Ramsay WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) not even showing up for production in 2013, to the exit of then star Jude Law, it seemed that this may be a cinematic disaster. Thankfully, it isn’t. While the Gavin O’Connor directed feature isn’t flawless, it has enough to offer for those looking for an intriguing indie western. With a few strong performances and a good premise, this is the kind of flick that is worth searching for on VOD or Netflix, or perhaps a bargain matinee.
Natalie Portman plays Jane Hammond. She is a tough frontierswoman who is suddenly forced to take care of her bullet-riddled husband Bill (Noah Emmerich). Knowing full well she and her family are in danger, she does her best to prepare for the unwanted arrival of Colin McCann (Ewan McGregor) and his gang to cause a whole lot of harm. Desperate, she seeks out her ex-lover, Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), to give her a little support. When he finally agrees, Dan and Jane get ready for the inevitable attack on her property. In the meantime, both Dan and her ailing husband are at odds. This is not the type of reunion you want to be having when the bullets start flying.
The best thing about JANE GOT A GUN is the relationship between Dan and Jane. It helps that Joel Edgerton is so damn good as the scorned lover, who clearly still has feelings for his ex. And as far as Jane is concerned, Natalie Portman does a terrific job balancing strength and vulnerability. While not quite as compelling, Ewan McGregor is good enough, yet never as menacing as he should have been. Thus, the film truly works when the focus is on the heroes. However, the final stretch proves to be a fairly exciting face-off for all involved.
The script - credited to Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton - does a fair job of revealing what exactly happened, and why certain decisions were made. Even though the main arc is a woman trying to protect her husband, we learn just how and why they are together with several flashback sequences. At times this tends to lessen the tension, but it does occasionally work. It is an interesting choice, and perhaps if they had stuck with a more linear telling, it would probably be a much longer and perhaps more conventional drama.
Director Gavin O’Connor has done some fantastic work with WARRIOR and MIRACLE. This time, using the old west as a backdrop, he manages to create a few truly memorable scenes. You won’t be seeing anything as jaw dropping as recent period flicks like THE REVENANT or THE HATEFUL EIGHT, but he does bring this world to life well enough. When we see McCann and his men riding across the vast landscape, it is certainly impressive. Working with choreographer Mandy Walker, the world in which Jane has to survive has its fair share of beauty.
JANE GOT A GUN is a much better film than its troubled history may suggest. The cast is solid, especially Edgerton and Portman, so it’s easy to feel invested in their struggle. However, as good of an actor as McGregor is, he is not terribly convincing as the villainous McCann. JANE GOT A GUN is an entertaining excursion of a western. While the continuous flashbacks aren’t always successful, the revelations they offer ultimately work. As a slight feminist western, JANE is a good movie. Considering we're in the “dump month” of January, a good western genre flick is more than welcome.
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