The production of Jane Got A Gun was one of the most ‘troubled’ in recent memory. Michael Fassbender and Jude Law both signed on for lead roles, then left before shooting. Original director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin) quit the day before filming was supposed to start – for reasons still unexplained – triggering a rush to find a new director (Gavin O’Connor, Warrior) and re-jig the cast. It’s a credit to those eventually involved that the resulting film is as coherent as it is, even if lacking much personality. Yet we can’t review what might have been, only what is.
Jane Got A Gun is the story of a young woman (Portman), whose husband arrives home riddled with bullets after a tussle with an outlaw gang led by John Bishop (McGregor). Why? We’ll find out later as Jane embarks on a mission to take down her man’s attackers with the help of Dan Frost (Edgerton), a curmudgeonly neighbour with whom she shares a clearly complicated past. The plot is more than solid. You can see the bones of something great, in which all the relationships are far more than they initially seem and which, in the sweaty, testosteroney world of westerns, gives the best part to a woman.
Yet O’Connor’s direction is workmanlike, simply putting the script on screen, not adding any extra dimensions to it or finding the extra story between the lines. Flashbacks to establish the characters’ pasts are clumsily inserted with scene-setting subtitles and Dan and Jane’s youthful romance is strainingly romanticised – they stroll through swaying cotton fields and ride hot air balloons, always bathed in the last sun of the day. They may as well be drawn with little hearts above their heads. The film builds to a big confrontation, but when it comes it unfolds hastily. The cast are strong, particularly Portman, who keeps Jane hardened to her situation until one single moment of emotional release – which devastates. Yet, the actors are a little adrift in a film that never really finds itself in the great plains of the Old West.