jane_got_a_gun_3Year: 2016
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer(s): Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Color, 98 mins

Synopsis: A woman asks her ex-lover for help in order to save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him. (Source)

After a year stocked with westerns like Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight, The Revenant, Slow West and even feminist thriller, The Keeping Room, Jane Got A Gun is undoubtedly the runt of the genre – simplistic, straightforward and more downbeat, yet still surprisingly effective. Directed commendably by Gavin O’Connor (picking up the pieces after Lynne Ramsay’s shocking exit), the film is better than it has any right to be, rising above infamous production woes to deliver a cheer-worthy female heroine, and held afloat by genuine performances from Natalie Portman and Joel Egerton. It’s a shame the film had to come out amidst a crowded slate and with little fanfare, because it ain’t half bad despite its faults, and serves as a solid, albeit slight entry into the genre.

The plot revolves around a farmer named Jane (Natalie Portman), and what happens when a past she thought she could escape comes back with a vengeance. After her husband Ham (Noah Emmerich) returns to their secluded ranch with bullets in his back and a warning, Jane enlists the help of an ex-lover/gunslinger named Dan (Joel Edgerton) to fortify her home against the band of outlaws hot on her tale. As Ham lies inches within death, tensions rise amongst the trio as they prepare for an oncoming war, but they soldier on, each person with their own reason for wanting to survive, as their integrity and resolve are tested.

At its core, there isn’t much going on within the film’s minimalist frame, relying on shop-worn tropes and ideas, although they’re admittedly executed well to a point. Without much embellishment, the film’s quaint simplicity turns out to be its greatest appeal, offering up a primal survival story about love, second chances and a woman with fierce integrity who refuses to take the hand that fate has dealt her. Though the film’s structure also proves a bit unwieldy, it starts fast, makes way for a series of stilted revelatory flashbacks and then ends strong – an exciting last stand manages to parlay all of the story’s emotional stakes into a showdown that maintains focus on character in addition to explosive thrills. There’s also much to be said about the way the story celebrates Jane’s archetypal, maternal nature without making her merely a stereotype, instead using the period setting to present the struggle of a woman trapped within a man’s world and forced to get her hands dirty. The film can be predictable at times and struggles to find an urgent pace, but its atypical exploration of gender comes with a sincerity that can’t be denied.

jane_got_a_gun_2If the characters allow the film to resonate successfully, it’s because of Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton’s performances, each who are definitely not phoning it in, but giving it their all to elevate the material and bring out its most human qualities. The film at times feels like its trying too hard to connect the emotional dots, but these two have a conviction that can’t be faked. As Jane, Portman has an admirable resolve and courage that make us want to cheer her on, balancing maturity and toughness without losing fragility or grace. As Dan, Edgerton grounds the film in a relatable way, playing an everyman conflicted by his feelings but not by what he feels is the right thing. Together, these two center the film and keep us invested when it matters most. Ewan McGregor is fares well as the villainous McGann, but his character is basically a non-entity, showing up when he needs to and forgettable when he’s not around – though this doesn’t detract from things.

If we’re being honest, the film wears its production struggles on its sleeve, feeling like its at times, just about to scratch the surface of its true potential – that being said, it’s still highly watchable and ultimately satisfying. O’Connor’s understated direction gives the finished product a nice sensitivity which contrasts with his characters’ struggles, while the story ends with a unexpectedly neat, but cathartic ending. Jane Got A Gun will hopefully enjoy a larger audience when it hits home viewing – its certainly worth a shot, especially for fans who can’t get enough of the dusty, but well worn genre.

SG