Jane’s story bit of a calamity
Few films arrive in cinemas on the back of the mountain of production issues that cursed this taut western.
Brian Duffield’s (Insurgent) original story featured on the 2011 Black List – an annual rundown of the most popular unproduced screenplays – and when the movie was finally given the green light, first-choice director Lynne Ramsay rode off into the sunset for reasons that still remain unclear.
Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper all signed on for roles only later to depart and Anthony Tambakis and new star Joel Edgerton were hired to rewrite Duffield’s script.
The one constant to remain on board this bumpy rollercoaster ride throughout was original lead Natalie Portman, who plays the titular heroine trying to protect her outlaw husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) from a gang out to kill him.
So after all that woe, is Jane Got a Gun worth the wait? Perhaps inevitably the simple answer is no. New Yorker Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Pride and Glory) gives it his best shot behind the camera, yet you can’t help but wonder what Glaswegian Ramsay (Ratcatcher, We Need to Talk about Kevin) would’ve done with the reins.
O’Connor knows his westerns, though, and he and cinematographer Mandy Walker (Australia) do a fine job of filming gorgeous landscapes adorned with sunsets, sand and autumnal colours.
Portman gives a strong turn too as a steely wife out to do all she can to save her put-upon other half; it’s just a pity the story doesn’t have much faith in its leading lady.
While Jane does indeed get her gun, her first instinct is to run off to ex-lover Dan Frost (Edgerton) for help rather than take the type of individual stand she seems perfectly capable of.
It doesn’t help either than despite fine individual performances, Portman and Edgerton don’t gel very well together and rather than delivering electricity, their limp chemistry is more like rubbing two sticks together in an unsuccessful attempt to create fire.
The pacing drags – especially during the middle third – amid one too many flashbacks and campfire chats when you’re dying to see a bit of gunplay and peril.
O’Connor keeps the action lean rather than lively and it’s a real shame as when the fireworks eventually arrive, they make for an engaging, tense climactic shoot-out.
Uneven and uneventful for the most part, then, but the film’s true Achilles heel is the embarrassing display by Scot Ewan McGregor.
Sporting a hideous black dye job and handlebar moustache, he hams it up so much as the villainous John Bishop, it’s as if he’s been dropped in from a Blazing Saddleslike western spoof.
For Jane Got a Gun to even make it to the big screen is a victory in itself, especially for the loyal Portman.
But this sluggish slog through the Old West will forever pale in comparison to the tale of its problematic production journey.
Bullet time Natalie Portman’s heroine defends her family