The Western, that great American genre, hasn’t treated the fairer sex very... well, fairly. Their role is usually confined to prostitutes or prizes to be won in a shoot out. Jane Got a Gun wants to be something more. It started life with Lynne Ramsay, the Scottish director behind outstanding adaptations of We Need to Talk About Kevin and Morvern Callar, at the helm and with Michael Fassbender and Jude Law starring. She left early in the production process and Gavin O’Connor took over the reigns, with Joel Edgerton and Noah Emmerich taking on the men’s roles.
The starring role, however, was written for Natalie Portman, who is tasked with playing the tormented Jane, who goes from giggling youth to wrathful mother during the course of the film. The trouble starts when her husband Bill Hammond (Emmerich) returns home seriously injured, muttering an ominous warning: “The Bishop boys are coming.”
These are dangerous outlaws from the couple’s past, headed up by Ewan McGregor with the whitest set of gnashers you’ve ever seen, glowing underneath a comically bushy moustache. No matter how much he narrows his eyes and pulls his black cowboy hat down, he remains quietly hilarious, proving that once you’ve seen a man serenade Nicole Kidman on a decorative elephant, he forever ceases to be frightening.
But Jane can’t have seen Moulin Rouge, because she’s frightened all the same, and rides off to fetch her old flame Dan Frost (Edgerton) to help her defend the house. Together, they reminisce about where it all went wrong while setting up booby traps, rather like Home Alone if Kevin McAllister had unlimited access to explosives and firearms.
The fault lies not in the main performances, which are all excellent bar McGregor, but in the aimless plot. It hasn’t quite worked out whether it wants to be about a love triangle between Jane and her suitors or a barn-storming female-led shoot-em-up. There are more flashbacks than an episode of Lost, slowing down the pace considerably, and the Bishop boys’ arrival is more of a squeak than a crescendo.
The dusty cinematography and strong lead performances carry a film that loses its way narratively-speaking. It’s suspended in time, with one foot in the grand Westerns of old and another in the age of female Ghostbusters.
Dir. Gavin O'Connor | ★★★☆☆