“The sixties called. They want their Western back.”
There have been no shortage of revisionist spins on the Western over the last few years, looking to drag the genre into the 21st century after it seemed all but dead. Just in the last four months, I’ve seen Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight and The Salvation, and while their approaches have been radically different – as have the degree of their success – they are, at least, trying to bring something new to the party. Jane Got a Gun? Not so much, to the point that viewers may feel the urge to check they haven’t fallen through some kind of wormhole, back to the era of Bonanza and The Virginian.
The rural farming life of Jane Hammond (Portman) and her husband, Bill (Emmerich), is thrown into turmoil, when he comes home, shot multiple times. Turns out, he had a battle with notorious outlaws, the Bishop Boys, which ended with several dead on their side, and Bill severely injured. Worse follows in the wake, as John Bishop (McGregor) is on the trail, seeking revenge for his men. With Bill in no state to defend himself and Jane, she turns to former boyfriend Dan Frost (Edgerton, also co-writer on the screenplay), who reluctantly agrees to help Jane stand against the Bishops.
The results are so overwhelmingly bland, one suspects they’re a great deal interesting than the disastrous production, which saw original director Lynne Ramsay literally not show up on the set for the first day of shooting. It took almost three further years for the movie to be released – and they probably shouldn’t have bothered, since it was the lowest grossing wide opening weekend ever for the Weinstein company, then posted the worst second weekend drop ever for a 1,000-plus screen release. Though you can see why it flopped, it’s not a bad movie, just an utterly forgettable one, without a single particularly memorable character to be found. Portman – also a producer, which may explain some things – perhaps comes out best, although her performance consists mostly of setting her jaw and exuding steely resolve. It’s not complemented by the flashback structure used in the story, which is clunky at best, and results in a severe lack of narrative flow. What was the hot-air balloon about, for instance?
It’s even fairly retro in the way Jane leaves most of the fighting to Dan, at least until the very end, and the movie simply feels astonishingly safe, as if O’Connor was reluctant to take any risks at all, for fear of jeopardizing a production which had already gone very badly wrong before his arrival. But sometimes (and Apocalypse Now is likely the best example), film-makers just need to say, “Screw it”, and plunge on regardless towards realizing their vision. If the results may or may not be great, they’ll probably be less forgettable than here, and considering how long it took to arrive, it wasn’t worth the wait.
Dir: Gavin O’Connor
Star: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Ewan McGregor