Well, Jane does certainly possess a gun throughout this movie. Sometimes she’ll be seen carrying one, other times she’ll have it holstered away. If you get really lucky, she just might shoot once or twice at a bad guy. For a flick that has Jane plastered front and center on both the feature poster and film title, Jane has to be one of the most helpless heroines in recent cinema history.
Jane Got a Gun stars Natalie Portman as titular character Jane. Set in the late 1800s of western New Mexico, Jane’s husband Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) comes riding home one day riddled with bullets. While Jane is helping nurse her husband back to help, Bill foretells that the Bishop Boys, the gang of outlaws he went after, are looking to take revenge by finding his home and putting him down for good. With nowhere left to turn, Jane calls upon her ex-fiance Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) to help defend her homestead and her family from the wrath of a group she had hoped would never cross her path again.
To give director Gavin O’ Connor credit, Jane Got a Gun can be cinematically beautiful. Some of the film’s cinematography manages to show off just how grand and expansive the Western landscape can be, which is always a plus to any tale of the old west. Additionally, Portman, Edgerton and Ewan McGregor (as the Bishop Boys’ leader John) provide great performances for the characters at O’Connor’s direction. While some may disappointed to learn that this movie is more of a “shattered love triangle” narrative, as opposed to an action-heavy western shoot ’em up, the drama that does lie within Jane Got a Gun can be really interesting and engaging to those willing to listen. From time to time, a flashback will pop in showing the love story between Dan Frost and Jane before he was sent off to war, and it’s hard to deny how well the actors work off each other. With Jane’s husband bed ridden from his injuries, we are able to get plenty of time for Jane and Dan to settle their grievances with one another and learn their tragic backstories as to how they got to where they are now. These little spins are easily the best moments this drama piece has to offer, and some of them just might stick with you long past watching this movie.
Despite this story being more drama driven than action driven, the few occasions where things do decide to get a little messy and hectic help the piece stand out as a whole. The ending home invasion scene is as tense and nerve-racking as you would hope it to be, and when Dan Frost’s personality goes postal on anyone threatening his former fiancée, the end result is a bloody good time. The catch to this, on the other hand, is having to endure plenty of build up and drama to get to these few and far between moments of manic mayhem. It doesn’t detract from the impact of the narrative heft or the action pieces, but it certainly would have benefited far greater from more of these intense shoot outs.
Sadly, however, Jane Got a Gun falters its grand potential to the point of mediocrity fairly quickly. As mentioned before, despite Jane being the supposed center of this story, she really doesn’t seem to do much besides tend to her injured husband, ride her horse and then wait for someone else to come save the day. Jane herself is rarely the one shooting the gun, instead hiding behind Dan to take care of most of the villains and protect her family for her. It’s fair to say that anyone walking into this movie would be hoping for a strong heroine to lead the narrative along, but Jane’s character is squandered from doing almost nothing that would set her apart from any other weak western female protagonist.
Even after all that, what remains to be the biggest detraction of all is the film’s “happily ever after” ending. Without trying to give too much away, things are wrapped up so forcefully that it actually manages to harm the aforementioned narrative twists left upon the viewer. Most of them end up meaning nothing as the end credits begin to play, thanks to some lame writing decisions made by the movie’s creators. In fact, the ending is such a waste of the film’s potential, that is just might lead to some audience members wondering what the entire point to the story was. Sure, this forcefully happy ending just might be what some moviegoers would hope for, but it ends up feeling completely out-of-place in a story as grim and unforgiving as it’s supposed to be.
To sum everything up, Jane Got a Gun is a flick focused entirely on the wrong person. Portman gives it her all, but the persona of Jane just isn’t strong enough to helm a western. Edgerton’s role as Dan Frost is the biggest driving force this film has to offer, and Jane just comes off as a stereotypical background female character that somehow managed to find her way into the spotlight. While there is definitely enough here to warrant romance fans to give it a rental, Jane Got a Gun never rises past its problems to the greatness it strives to be.