By Jesse Stringer
Since 2011, Jane Got a Gun has undergone more production problems than a film would ever hope to. Originally, the film was set to star Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender & Joel Edgerton with We Need to Talk About Kevin’s Lynne Ramsay directing. Eventually, Michael Fassbender dropped out and Joel Edgerton took his role and the now empty villain role was taken by Jude Law.
The film was set to begin shooting in March of 2013, and on the first day, everyone came to work, except for Lynne Ramsay. Once she officially left the project, cinematographer Darius Khondji and Jude Law followed suit. Within 24 hours of Ramsay’s departure, Gavin O’Connor, director or Warrior, had agreed to take her spot and Bradley Cooper was then brought on to replace Jude Law. Soon after, Bradley Cooper left the project due to scheduling conflicts. Eventually the cast and crew were nailed down and Ewan McGregor was brought in to replace Cooper. Now, one would think after all of this, maybe the producers would put up their white flag and throw in the towel, but somehow the film managed to finish principal photography sometime in 2013. Now nearly three years later, the masses can finally see what this Jane Got a Gun movie is all about. Were all the production problems worth it for what could be an incredible western? The answer is unfortunately a hard “no”.
The film follows Jane (Portman), a woman living in the old west with her husband and daughter. One day her husband arrives home after being shot multiple times and he informs her that “The Bishop Boys”, an infamous outlaw gang, are coming for them; which then leads to a lot of exposition in cheesy flashbacks, a love triangle between Jane, her husband and an old flame played by Joel Edgerton, and let’s not forget the cartoony performance from Ewan McGregor as the leader of the gang out to kill Jane and her husband.
Jane Got a Gun is a complete missed opportunity. It is full of potential but the film uses none of it and instead just settles for being a bland and utterly forgettable western. The cast is strong, the director has proven he can make good films in the past, but for some reason when those elements are thrown into the western genre, things seem to fall apart. This film being bad however, may not entirely be due to the people involved in the making the film, the production problems it faced likely had a hand in this film’s downfall but many other films have undergone problems and managed to become cinematic masterpieces like Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner. It is evident after watching the film that the script is really what keeps this film from being anything better than “meh”.
The script consisted of three writers, Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis and Joel Edgerton. Now, that many people working on one script usually ends up with messy results. But interestingly enough, the film isn’t really messy. There is really just nothing to keep this movie interesting at all. Nothing. Virtually none of the characters are developed. The little back story the film offers does not provide any real emotional heft to keep an audience invested. And if that isn’t bad enough, the story itself is completely unoriginal and bland. For a movie titled Jane Got a Gun, you might expect some excitement to occur, but there is really none to be had, and the moments that are supposed to be, aren’t at all. If the script that was used to shoot the movie was the same script Lynne Ramsay read before signing on, that would honestly be surprising. It’s also surprising that such a decent cast would agree to star in this film based on this material.
Jane Got a Gun’s main cast have all done great work in the past but this film is definitely not a platform for them to shine, which is a shame. Portman, Edgerton, McGregor and company seem like they were all trying to bring their A-game to this film but there is just nothing in this material to help them shine. None of the performances are strong enough to make the film a more positive experience for the viewer. Natalie Portman’s performance felt very one note, as well as Joel Edgerton’s; however this could again be the fault of the script and not the actor. Ewan McGregor’s villain was one of the least interesting villains in recent film history. His character is just not menacing or intimidating. He tries very hard to bring this character some life and personality but it also unfortunately just doesn’t work. But as stated before, I don’t think the actors are entirely to blame here, the director could have had a hand in this as well, and could have possibly saved the project.
Gavin O’Connor has proven he came make a good film before. He has talent as a director. But he was definitely phoning it in for Jane Got a Gun. The presence of a director feels completely absent in this film. It feels aimless with no real moral message or point that the film is driving toward. There appears to be no effort made on his end to better the film. There are elements that are decent enough though. The cinematography isn’t terrible, the production design is fine, but these elements also truly don’t stand out. Hopefully all of the future ventures from everyone working on this film end up in better shape than this film does.
By the end of Jane Got a Gun, instead of feeling exhilarated or moved in any way, one is left saying “That was a movie”, and that is completely inexcusable. It is not the worst film ever made by any stretch, in fact it is not really poorly made, it is just empty; devoid of any reason for an audience to go out to the cinema and pay their money to see this film. Jane Got a Gun was supposed to be a great film, but had just too many obstacles to make that happen. A film that could have been an Oscar contender ended up with a crummy January release date and a product that audiences have practically already forgotten about. It tried, but failed unfortunately and that is very sad.