Jane Got a Gun
Natalie Portman produces and stars in a well-intentioned, if hardly radical western
As a production, Jane Got a Gun has been through more changes than David Bowie: losing its original director Lynne Ramsay and distributor, along with various male cast members (including Michael Fassbender and Bradley Cooper), seemed to suggest it would never get made. But this western, co-produced by star Natalie Portman, now finally gets to strut its stuff.
Although it doesn’t exactly revitalise the genre, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) has carved a satisfying ‘oater’ that fits its snappy, alliterative title. Portman and Joel Edgerton play a heroic former couple plagued by the Bishop Boys, a truly horrible gang of dirty, gun-toting, scarred and tattooed hipsters led by Ewan McGregor, sporting dyed black hair and a villainous tash. The story is pretty basic: pioneer wife Jane (Portman) finds husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) all shot up near their homestead in the wild New Mexico Territory of 1871, and her old lover Dan (Edgerton) swings in to save her, even though she busted his heart in two.
Emotional baggage, children and a trip to a brothel are the pivot points in what seems like a tale of woe and exploitation. However, even with Edgerton aboard as co-writer (who’s often associated with edgy fare), we don’t quite get a Shane Black level of cutting-edge action, instead this watered-down, flashback-filled drama is, well, nice. That said, the occasionally intense performances enliven a plodding pace, while sumptuous photography by DP Mandy Walker lights up a story that chugs along on a lot of heart.
Portman is sternly believable as the vengeful Jane; she may not be as dynamic as Barbara Stanwyck in Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns, but she’s handy with a shotgun and her ragged surgery on husband Bill is memorably visceral. So, if Jane Got a Gun is not the rousing feminist western we’ve been waiting for, it is a pony trek in the right direction.
General release from Fri 22 Apr.