Jane Got a Gun – the new western drama from director Gavin O’Connor and writers Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis and Joel Edgerton, and starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich and Ewan McGregor – goes in with all guns blazing. The final result however, is wildly of target.
Jane (Portman) lives with her husband Bill (Emmerich), eking out a living in America’s wild west. Many years before she fell foul of a gang of outlaws known as the Bishop Boys, who killed her young daughter and left Jane mentally scarred for life. Now the Bishop Boys are back in town and Jane is out for revenge. However, as she meets the bandits in the mother of all showdowns, she is confronted with an unexpected truth which will turn her world upside-down.
The rumours and stories which surround the troubled production of Jane Got a Gun, are nearly as legendary as the period in American history during which it is set: several changes in cast and production crew, as well as a three year delay in release, does not augur well for a film’s success. Now, after watching it, you can understand why people were so loathe to get involved.
For a film supposedly based around ‘action’ filled incidents, there is actually very little action going on. Apart from a few violent interludes, the only real gunfight – which is after all what most people want to see in a western – doesn’t happen until the last twenty minutes of the film’s ninety eight minute running time. Up till then there is a lot of talk, a lot of shouting and a lot of outpouring of pent up frustration, all done with surprisingly little emotion, to the extent that none of the characters garner much sympathy from the viewer. Even Jane – who admittedly is forced to endure some pretty horrific experiences at the hands of the film’s various males – is not a person you feel empathy with: though you wouldn’t go as far as saying she deserves what she gets, you equally well don’t care much about her or her troubles either.
In the film’s favour, the scenery is breathtaking. Filmed in New Mexico where the story is set, you certainly get a sense of the open wildness which people on the American frontier had to face during the mid nineteenth century. The parched landscapes boarded by mountain ranges, as well as the clapboard, one horse, shanty towns which peppered these areas are wonderfully captured, adding what little atmosphere there is to the proceedings. However these are not enough to save a story, and characters, that have very little heart at their centre.
Admittedly, when the final showdown eventually comes, it does so in a spectacular and violent style, which almost makes it worth sitting through the previous eighty minutes to see. However, though Jane Got a Gun may have pistols aplenty, it unfortunately shows little sign of knowing how to use them in order to create any lasting impression.
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis and Joel Edgerton
Stars: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich and Ewan McGregor
Runtime: 98 mins