Review: ‘Jane Got a Gun’ and Our Attention

Spoilers ahead for Jane Got a Gun!

Source: 1821 Pictures

Source: 1821 Pictures

With Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, and Ewan McGregor all playing lead roles, Jane Got a Gun is a fun, nuanced film. While it had plenty of production setbacks, it finally hit the silver screen on January 29.

Each of the leads are uniquely qualified. McGregor (August: Osage County), for one, is totally camouflaged behind dyed black hair and mustache, slicked back with enough pomade to tame even the wildest of strands. He is a formidable antagonist. Portman (Thor: The Dark World) is solid in the lead role, as usual, and Edgerton (The Gift), who co-wrote the film with Brian Duffield and Anthony Tambakis, makes a nice companion, hired hand, and ex-boyfriend. Altogether, the film is a bit niche and probably will not earn back its budget, but it is bustling with energy and a sturdy romantic subplot. There is a series of flashback scenes that O’Connor and his writers employ, which are somewhat stale and melodramatic, but tend to get the job done.

Cinematographer Mandy Walker’s frames are a delight to behold: The New Mexico Territory circa 1871 was a daunting and beautiful frontier. Where the film succeeds most, though, is creating a palpable sort of tension between Jane (Portman) and the Bishop gang. All the latter group has to do is threaten a child, and the conflict takes flight from there.

At times, Jane Got a Gun plateaus and just sort of stays in place for a while, but eventually Edgerton and company pen enough action to get the wagon wheels rolling again. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a crow fly into a window. Further, aside from the full frames and the passable dialogue, Jane Got a Gun has an interesting — albeit hackneyed — moral message about the Civil War and what it did to entire families, not just the men who marched off.

Jane Got a Gun is not going to be a money-maker, that’s almost certain. But for any fans of westerns, this is a must-see. It is not often that we get adequate western films any longer; and it is even rarer to see one be a hit at the box office. So, while the era of Hollywood’s studio westerns has long since past, it is comforting to know that someone, like Gavin O’Connor, can take this script by the reins and guide it to be a fun feature film.

Read ahead for a plot synopsis.

Plot synopsis

Source: 1821 Pictures

Source: 1821 Pictures

Jane Got a Gun begins as Jane’s husband, Bill “Ham” Hammond (Noah Emmerich, Warrior) returns to their New Mexico home littered with bullets. Jane sets him down on the bed and removes all but one of the rounds lodged in Ham’s back. The last one, however, cannot be removed. At this point, viewers know that Ham will have a rough go of it. He informs Jane that the Bishop boys are coming for him.

Jane, heeding Ham’s warning, takes their child and flees on horseback to a friend’s. She drops off the young girl and then hunts down a gunslinger to come protect her. Unfortunately for her, the only option she is left with is Dan Frost, a Civil War veteran who just happens to be her ex lover. Frost went off to war engaged to marry Jane, but he was taken prisoner and was unable to write her. Once the war ended, Frost rode up and down the American frontier looking for her. By this point, though, she’d already joined ranks with Bill Hammond and the Bishop Boys, a gang of outlaws. The gang is led by the remorseless John Bishop (McGregor).

So, Jane and Dan Frost are forced to acclimate themselves with one another again, all the while fortifying Jane’s small, wooden house and protecting the ailing Ham. Bishop is after Ham because the latter killed four of Bishop’s men and then took to the countryside. And no one gets the best of John Bishop, naturally.

By the time the Bishop Boys reach the house, Jane’s relationship with Dan has been turned on its head, and she is left questioning just about everything she’s ever done. Dan is also forced to accept Ham for the man he is, and judge him for what he has done.

The film comes to a head in a conflagration of a scene; a fun piece of filmmaking that is sure to impress. Keep in mind: These outlaws have stiff bounties on their heads! Will Dan be swayed by this? Will Jane be able to “have her gun and shoot it too?”

Final thoughts

Source: 1821 Pictures

Source: 1821 Pictures

We could go on: Jane Got a Gun rivals westerns from the past year or so like Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman and Kane Senes’s Echoes of War. It is a spirited film that strives to be more jovial than 2015’s big titles, such as The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. While it is no award-winner, it will impress the devout western fans. It is sure to be an on-demand success as well. So, if you don’t see it while it makes its (short-lived?) theatrical run, be sure to catch it on one of the movie channels!

You’d be hard-pressed not to enjoy Walker’s mise-en-scene and Edgerton’s solid (co-)writing. He has shown some serious chops in the past year: with his other film The Gift, which he wrote and directed.

So sit back and watch these characters prime their weapons and fire at one another; you won’t be disappointed!

Follow Dan Gunderman on Twitter @dangun127

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