Looking to its numerous casting and crew changes, Jane Got a Gun has had its fair share of troubles. The project was previously attached to Jude Law, Bradley Cooper and Michael Fassbender, as well as director Lynne Ramsey, but they quickly left the production and caused concerns on its development. However, the script was among those on the 2011 Black List of "best" unproduced screenplays, along with Academy Award winner Django Unchained and nominee The Imitation Game. So, can Warrior director O’Connor and leading lady Portman pull off the Western that was almost never made?
The film focuses on Jane (Portman), who’s forced to defend her injured husband Ham (Emmerich) from outlaw John Bishop (McGregor). Unable to face him and his gang alone, she enlists the help of her ex, Dan Frost (Edgerton). As the two prepare for battle against Bishop, their memories and secrets are brought to light.
On the face of it, Jane Got a Gun is a typical Western. It has guns, villains with twirl-worthy moustaches and plenty of people on horses. And yes, it has a woman as the main character. These are all well and good, but the almost indulgent flashbacks to the past, which flicker between five and seven years from the present, feel corny and in some cases, redundant. They may serve as tragic memories but ultimately bring a layer of realism that reminds viewers that the hero is prone to sentiment – a stark contrast to typically indifferent long gunslingers in earlier Westerns. Additionally, writer Duffield’s story feels simplistic, occasionally predictable, and lacks intrigue.
However, the final cast bring in good performances. While McGregor milks the cunning side of dastardly Bishop and Edgerton manages to both embittered yet nostalgic as Frost, Portman’s strong-willed Jane drives the story. While she lives in male-driven society, she shows that she has as much guts and courage as her mostly ignorant peers, creating an empathic heroine.
The key strengths in Jane Got a Gun are its screenplay and appearance. Co-written by Duffield, Edgerton and Anthony Tambakis, the script doesn’t dwell in the particulars – regardless of whether it is a tender interaction or a tense discussion, it is straight to the point and unpretentious, while O’Connor makes the most of the vast New Mexico landscapes to highlight the bleakness and ruggedness of life on the frontier. During the climatic scene, which is mostly confined to one small area, he and his crew manage to create a suspenseful, well captured atmosphere.
Jane Got A Gun barely manages to pull off a solid Western – its sentimental side prevents it from becoming a memorable one.