This film took a long, rocky road to the big screen. After many heated arguments with its producers, the original director Lynne Ramsay no-showed on the first day of production back in 2013. Several cast members backed out as well, including Bradley Cooper, Michael Fassbender and Jude Law. But Natalie Portman stayed grounded in the project. And the final product is…fine.
Jane Got a Gun doesn’t feel like an epic passion project. It’s more akin to a pulpy paperback western gathering dust on the back shelf of a mom-and-pop bookstore. The film has a modest charm — it’s a B-movie.
The film opens with Jane’s husband (Noah Emmerich) riding home riddled with bullet wounds courtesy of the Bishop Boys — the gang he was in before he settled down with her. Led by the relentless John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), the gang is hell-bent on hunting down their former member and the woman who drove him away from a life of crime. “Turn over every rock until those snakes slither out into sight,” McGregor says with velvety menace.
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While the Bishob Boys barrel across New Mexico like bats out of hell, Jane enlists her ex-fiancé Dan (Joel Edgerton) to help protect her home. As they board up the windows and dig trenches filled with kerosene, they unearth memories of their past love. It’s a poignant scenario — lovers reunited right before death comes knocking on their door. Portman and Edgerton’s chemistry is electric. They create a tense atmosphere lingering with love, resentment and thirst for revenge.
Jane Got a Gun is more of a romantic drama than an explosive adventure. It does have some explosions, but this isn’t the gunslinging, girl-power western that audiences are probably expecting. Just as Jane exacts revenge with calm reserve, director Gavin O’Connor shows remarkable restraint in the shoot-’em-up action scenes. If you want a visually fierce, feminist action film, go with Mad Max: Fury Road.
Although the film received a dreadful January release and has a storm of controversy surrounding it, Jane Got a Gun is an engaging, harmless film. Considering its reportedly troubled production, it’s almost disappointing that it’s not a trainwreck — or at least an edgier effort. It transcends the western genre a little bit by focusing on a protective mother more than gunfighters or outlaws, but it ultimately doesn’t break any boundaries. Jane is too low-key to emerge as a truly transcendent character. It’s highly doubtful that more western heroines will come out of the woodwork any time soon after her. This genre will sadly remain a world full of cowboys.
Jane Got a Gun is a serviceable, by-the-numbers western. I’m glad it survived the many obstacles of its production, but I’m not sure why the cast and crew fought so hard to save this rather safe, conventional movie. To stay alive, the western genre needs films with characters that push the envelope rather than ones that ride quietly into the sunset.