As major movie studios use the early months of the year to clear out their vaults, occasionally we get a beleaguered gem like Jane Got A Gun.
Originally shot in 2013, the film finally received a moderate release after the initial distribution company filed bankruptcy and the premiere, scheduled in Paris, was delayed in the wake of terrorist attacks. Even before that, the production’s woes included allegations of fraudulent behavior, a breach-of-contract lawsuit between producer and director, a cinematographer departure, and four different actors leaving the primary antagonist role, including Joel Edgerton who had to switch to being the leading man. Roger Ebert once said that the story of a movie’s production should never be more interesting than the film itself. While Jane Got A Gun barely manages to clear that bar, the effects of the behind-the-scenes compromises are clear in the final product.
In late-1800s New Mexico, settler Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) and her reformed-outlaw husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) attempt to live a quiet and remote life. This proves difficult when Bill comes home with four bullets in his back courtesy of his former colleagues. With Bill bedridden and gang leader John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) determined to find them both, Jane actually gets several guns, and enlists the help of her ex-fiancée Dan Frost (Edgerton) to help defend their home. After reluctantly agreeing, Dan’s grudges and feelings toward Jane reveal themselves and his trustworthiness is called into question. As Jane and Dan prepare for the incoming assault, the film exposes more of their history through a series of flashbacks showing the relationship from both of their perspectives.
This back-and-forth “two sides to every story” conceit is the primary driver of Jane Got A Gun. When the flashbacks are at their best, they add a nice layer of mystery and depth to Jane and Dan’s characterizations, especially since they add new information to each one. In this regard, it’s adapting techniques we’ve seen recently in The Past Five Years and Forgetting Sarah Marshall to a Western backdrop. Unfortunately, this also means some of the memories are overdone to the point of cliché, filled with literal running through fields and weak “let’s run off together” dialogue. More frustrating, they introduce a lazy and unneeded sexual assault/forced prostitution element to Jane’s backstory. While not graphic in depiction, this stops the movie dead in its tracks and cheapens Jane’s otherwise strong characterization and motive.
Despite these missteps, it’s clever filmmaking that keeps Jane Got A Gun from growing stale. The sound design particularly reinforces the film’s central themes by selectively muffling and obscuring dialogue and sound, altering what specific characters and the audience can hear based on their diegetic location. Equally clever is how the film handles its final shootout. You can pinpoint the exact moment that the shoot seems to run out of money and must take the battle indoors, relying on the Star Trek “flop around and pretend the ship just got shot with a laser” method. However, some intelligent sound and lighting decisions go a long way in keeping the scene effective. It has more of a black-box theater feel to it, which is not at all a bad outcome for limited options.
Jane Got A Gun has a compelling central story and effective filmmaking techniques, but there are as many holes to poke in it as there are bullets.
Portman and Edgerton are fantastic together, but McGregor feels woefully miscast, likely because he was far from the top choice to play the role. McGregor may sport the Doc Holliday mustache well, but he is not given a chance to properly twirl it, as the film takes itself too seriously for the affectations he puts on. There seems to be a reservoir of campiness within him that he maintains a tight dam around, and as a result he seems to have wandered in off another set. This is the real failing of Jane Got A Gun: All the changes on-set have resulted in a wildly uneven tone. There are moments of greatness within Jane and within Jane, but ultimately the character and the film are, at best, examples of breaking even.Liked This? Share It!