Jane Got a Gun

Posted by Joel Copling on February 4, 2016

Much will said about the behind-the-scenes troubles of "Jane Got a Gun," which ranged from a director, a cinematographer and three actors leaving the project to another actor switching roles at the point when one was vacated to a screenplay that had remained on the infamous Blacklist for two years before going into production to a distribution company's bankruptcy sending it into the void for a series of months. All of it is irrelevant to the film's quality, of course, but it does help to find a source to the feeling that the film has been hemmed-in. There is a longer movie underneath, one that makes sense of a plot that is fairly simple with a tidy ending and a middle section that begins to feel like a slog.

It starts and ends swimmingly enough, too. Her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) returns from an unknown conflict with five bullets in his back and no feeling in his legs, which prompts Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) into action. She does, indeed, get a gun (two, actually) and travels on horseback straight to her old flame Dan Frost's (Joel Edgerton) cabin to ask for his help in fighting off the coming threat: The Bishop brothers, John (Ewan McGregor) and Vic (Boyd Holbrook), who used to employ Bill to some capacity, are out for blood. Jane's loyalty to both men in her life and their resolve in each other's presence are thrown into a mix as potentially explosive as the fate headed their way.

The opening act is solid in building Jane's sense of reckless resolve once the man with whom she has had a child and a life for several years is injured potentially to a mortal degree, and Portman's performance allows us to see her as a headstrong woman in an unkind era among unfriendly terrain. Edgerton (who co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Duffield and Anthony Tabakis) is very good as Dan Frost, whose wounds run perhaps too deep for the healing, but McGregor's John Bishop is basically a villain whose mustache is just a little too short to twirl.

The screenplay and director Gavin O'Connor (who, along with cinematographer Mandy Walker, at least brings a dusty authenticity to the period) unfortunately fudge the potential of a middle act that might explore this Old West dynamic, instead relegating it to an extended, patiently paced montage of training intercut with flashbacks to crucial information that comes off as merely exposition. It's pretty dull stuff. The film returns to the potential of the opening third by a climax that brings the gunplay and conflict to the center of the focus, which for the purposes of a revenge story is the right thing. "Jane Got a Gun" is still, by the end, a pretty conventional revenge tale, though.

Film Information

Natalie Portman (Jane Hammond), Joel Edgerton (Dan Frost), Ewan McGregor (John Bishop), Rodrigo Santoro (Fitchum), Noah Emmerich (Bill Hammond), Boyd Holbrook (Vic), Alex Manette (Buck), Todd Stashwick (O'Dowd), James Burnett (Cunny Charlie), Sam Quinn (Slow Jeremiah).

Directed by Gavin O'Connor and written by Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, and Joel Edgerton.

Rated R (violence, language).

98 minutes.

Released in select cities on January 29, 2016.