Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton; no this is not another Star Wars prequel; but it leaves you with a similar feeling of empty dissatisfaction.
Jane Hammond’s (Natalie Portman) husband Bill rides back to their ranch riddled with bullets. Bill “Ham” Hammond’s (Noah Emmerich) outlaw past alongside the sadistic John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) has caught up with them. With ‘Ham’ incapacitated, Jane takes up arms and enlists the help of Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), an ex-soldier from her past to withstand Bishop’s gang.
Jane Got a Gun feels like a movie with a sprawling epic vision, groomed into a ‘homestead under assault’ Western. The presence of the editing scissors are like the presence of your grandma’s wooden spoon in the drawer; while you can’t see the cuts you feel their presence amplifying the filmmaker’s intent. Jane Got a Gun gradually adds meat to the bones of this skeletal and derivative premise through a series of flashbacks.
Jane Got a Gun was reported to have a difficult path to the screen. Writers Brian Duffield and Anthony Tambakis (Warrior) seem to have been required (ordered) to enlist star (and accomplished writer and now director) Edgerton for assistance in bringing the final product to screen on the fly. The events of Jane Got a Gun unfolding in the present are meaningless without the past context. You should be invested by the drama and revelations following the converging timelines. The staging, the tone, the aesthetic; everything about the flashbacks feels inauthentic. I don’t mean that we’re watching recollections of unreliable narrators (The Usual Suspects, or TV Series The Affair); the sepia hues reek of tacky old-timey dress-up, photos at theme parks.
Portman doesn’t feel like she’s in Jane Got A Gun. Her performance is as frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is always checking their phone, or someone who is concerned they may have left the iron on at home. You’re not empathising with a woman who has toiled a tough life with emotional and mental battle scars; you’re being distracted by an aloof Portman relegated to the sidelines of her own movie.
Edgerton’s Frost is a grubby, unassuming but archetypal war hero fortifying the isolated homestead. He delivers the most reliable performance of the film though, and that’s potentially because he had the additional clarity of being able to craft the role for himself.
John Bishop doesn’t live up to Ewan McGregor’s slimy reptilian performance. In a couple of choice moments in the film, you get to see that he’s intent on hunting Ham and Jane to the ends of the Earth but there’s a sense that instead of being completely heinous he wants to position himself as a model citizen (as model as the Wild West allows perhaps). As it’s presented, it’s dimensionless.
Jane Got a Gun is misleading; it should be renamed “Jane had an old ‘friend’ who was a soldier with mad skills.” Jane Got A Gun has the promise of a strong female leading Western; the by the numbers end result doesn’t even barely eclipse the central trio’s last time on screen.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor > Warrior, Pride and Glory
Written by: Brian Duffield and Anthony Tambakis & Joel Edgerton
Natalie Portman … Jane Hammond
Joel Edgerton … Dan Frost
Ewan McGregor … John Bishop
Noah Emmerich … Bill Hammond
Boyd Holbrook … Vic Owen
Rodrigo Santoro … Fitchum