Monday, February 08, 2016

Jane Got a Gun

JANE GOT A GUN (Gavin O’Connor, 2016)

Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) tends to her bullet-riddled, fur-trapping husband Bill (Noah Emmerich), but it’s only a matter of time until the Bishop Boys find and kill them at their home secreted on the New Mexico Territory’s frontier. In JANE GOT A GUN she hides their daughter with a friend and goes to gunslinger Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) to hire him for protection. Jane and Dan are former lovers who were engaged to be wed when he returned from the Civil War. He still nurtures a resentment after coming back to discover she fled from their Missouri hometown and has taken up with another man. That she replaced him with Bill, whose head carries a bounty from the law and the local gang, wounds him even more grievously. Despite his objections, Dan agrees to assist Jane with fending off John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his scurrilous band of men.

To say that JANE GOT A GUN had a rocky road to get into theaters is like comparing traveling by wagon train with flying on the Concorde. Within days of the production’s start it lost two leading actors and the original director. One of the replacement actors eventually withdrew too. Edgerton switched from playing the villain to the hero. The actual release date ended up being almost a year and half after one was announced when the dust settled over cast and crew defections. Plus, a distribution partner went bankrupt.

None of that matters in terms of determining if the finished film is good or not, but it helps to explain why JANE GOT A GUN feels so ragged. The film is often at odds with itself. Director Gavin O’Connor attempts to incorporate the feminist point of view and lyrical style with the traditional western plot but comes up lacking a distinct perspective, poeticism, and narrative fluidity. The nonlinear structure does the story no favors as it ping-pongs between 1871 and the recent past for the characters. With minimal scenes McGregor’s Bishop gets lost in the shuffle, standing in as a monstrous villain known for the fearsome way he’s spoken of more than any impression he leaves. The tension between Jane and Dan suffers as well. Rather than flashbacks adding to the sense of tragedy in their relationship and the triangle, the scenes from a few years before merely fill in the blanks that the film has left unanswered until those points. The ending definitely does not seem earned.

Although afflicted with dullness, the film revives momentarily with Dan’s ingenuity in trying to level the fight between the vicious attackers and the badly outgunned and the initial outburst on the Hammond homestead. Still, as so-called cursed films go, JANE GOT A GUN is notable for being so ordinary in its flawed realization.

Grade: D+

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