Friday, January 29, 2016

“Jane Got A Gun”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new Western, “Jane Got A Gun”, starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor. 


When a woman in the old West must defend her family against a band of dangerous marauders, can her aggrieved old flame come to her aid?


In the post-Civil War era of America’s wild West, Jane (Portman) cares for her daughter while her outlaw husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) is away. Eventually, Bill returns, but just barely – he’s been badly shot by members of The Bishop Boys, a deadly gang of criminals with whom both Bill and Jane have a long and unpleasant history. Although Jane is somehow able to remove most of the bullets and dress the wounds, it’s not clear whether Bill will pull through. As if that isn’t bad enough, he informs Jane that The Boys are coming for her and their daughter.

After dropping off their daughter with a neighbor, Jane immediately heads to the ranch owned by Dan (Edgerton), her ex-fiancé, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Still resentful after feeling jilted, Dan isn’t exactly happy to see Jane, who pretty much expected a less than warm welcome. Nevertheless, she’s in a bind – it’s patently obvious to Dan she wouldn’t be there otherwise. Jane explains her situation and begs for his help, but the pain he harbors causes him to decline. Desperate and alone, Jane returns to her home and awaits Colin (McGregor), perhaps the most sadistic member of The Bishops, who will likely be accompanied by other members of the gang.

Just then, Dan unexpectedly shows up and begrudgingly agrees to help Jane; together, they proceed to form their plan of action and bolster the ranch. Despite being extremely busy, they are still able to find time to squabble and express mutual bitterness over how each treated the other in the past. Overnight, Dan and Jane are ambushed by The Bishops; although wounded, they valiantly defend themselves throughout the night. Colin, however, is relentless and by dawn, he is still in pursuit as Dan has locked Jane and Bill in their basement. Once Colin corners Dan, will Jane surrender, or can she manage to save both herself and Dan?


Despite being an interesting concept, “Jane Got A Gun” is sabotaged by its third act which undoes any good (however minimal) that may have occurred previously. Its finale is trite and contrived; the resolution of the story is a little too perfect and wrapped up quickly in its last couple of minutes. Any sense of realism the movie tries to create is completely blown to smithereens by the end. Somewhat problematic in the storytelling is its dependence on flashbacks, which tend to slow a film’s forward momentum. Flashbacks are used to inform the audience of the characters’ history – specifically, the Jane-Dan romance and Jane and Bill’s experience with The Bishop Boys. This is all necessary information in order to contextualize why the gang is out to get them, but these missing facts early on may cause a bit of confusion in the mind of the audience because it’s unclear as to the source of the conflict.

Even though “Jane Got A Gun” is about a female protagonist fending for herself in the old West, it would be a mistake to think of this as a feminist movie; nothing could be further from the truth, in fact. When it comes to The Bechdel Test, this film might be better off with an Incomplete rather than a Pass/Fail grade. The reason why, of course, is the fact that Jane ultimately cannot completely take matters into her own hands and defend her family by herself; she has to call on someone else to do so. That someone else is a man. To make matters worse, it’s her former boyfriend.

Fans of Westerns may see enough here to find “Jane Got A Gun” worthwhile viewing, assuming they can overlook the movie’s various weaknesses -- particularly, its ending. The performances also have their own way of intruding on the film. While Portman occasionally seems somewhat miscast as Jane (she has a hard time pulling off a rugged woman of the West), Edgerton’s character of Dan spends much of the film broody and mumbling to a point of near incoherence (Edgerton also has a screenwriting credit in this motion picture, so there may be an interesting tale to be told there).

Jane Got a Gun (2015) on IMDb   

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