Jane Got a Gun
dir Gavin O'Connor
scr Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton
prd Natalie Portman, Aleen Keshishian, Mary Regency Boies, Zack Schiller, Scott Steindorff, Scott LaStaiti, Terry Dougas
with Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Noah Emmerich, Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, James Burnett, Sam Quinn, Maisie McMaster, Jenny Gabrielle, Alex Manette, Piper Sheets
release US 29.Jan.16, UK 22.Apr.16
16/US 1h38
Jane Got a Gun
Take aim: Portman and Edgerton

mcgregor emmerich santoro
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Jane Got a Gun Relatively little happens in this intriguingly low-key Western, although the script complicates things by flickering back in time to explore the connections between the characters. It's a clever idea with a distinctly original perspective, although neither the direction nor the writing ever break the surface to grapple with the subtext.

In the wilds of 1871 New Mexico, tough-minded Jane (Portman) tends to her injured husband Bill (Emmerich) as a gang of thugs led by the notorious John Bishop (McGregor) search for their isolated homestead. For help, she turns to her angry-gunslinger ex Dan (Edgerton), who is still bruised that she broke off their engagement but agrees to help her. Bill isn't happy about this, but can't really protest. And despite past events and impending violence, Jane simply refuses to let the bad blood between all of these men define her life.

The film has a superbly dusty production design that avoids glamorising the Wild West. Director O'Connor focusses on the complicated plot and gritty action rather than the messy inner lives of these characters. But their obvious conflicts fuel each scene with plenty of energy. The story frequently flashes back to Jane's truncated romance with Dan, as well as her earlier encounters with John, his hothead brother (Holbrook) and the brutal Fitchum (Santoro). There isn't a working moral compass between these desperadoes.

Of course, characters this complex offer lots of textures for the cast members to play with. Portman is terrific as the steely, tenacious Jane, a fascinating woman who refuses to be beaten down by anything that happens to her (there's a lot more drama in her back-story). Her scenes with the excellent Edgerton, both in their earlier happiness and in the present crisis, are infused with a nice sense of personal history. By contrast, McGregor swaggers archly through his scenes as the dandy heavy who has some unexpected shadings.

Perhaps the film's odd sense of imbalance is a result of its troubled production history. Basically, this is a darkly internalised story that has been told with an emphasis on the external action moments. But O'Connor even fumbles that, since the climactic shootout happens at night, rendering it incomprehensible. The problem is that this approach leaves the film feeling utterly superficial, even though it's a rare female-led story in a male-dominated genre.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Apr.16

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