The appealing trio of Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton can’t help Warrior director Gavin O’Connor’s misfiring revenge-infused western Jane Got A Gun…
It’s fair to say we should expect better from director Gavin O’Connor. Just sample Warrior for his credentials. Jane Got A Gun, his first feature since that indie hit, reteams him with the film’s star Joel Edgerton for a tale of outlaws and revenge in a post-Civil War “wild west”. Edgerton lends his considerable talents – that don’t simply begin and end with acting – to a screenplay that needs an injection of grit, grime and energy but despite his efforts this is a forgettable affair.
Take nothing away from the ensemble of A-List talent assembled by O’Connor. Backed by Natalie Portman producing as well as starring, the director welcomes Ewan McGregor as the clean-cut antagonist to Edgerton’s sun-beaten hero. Of the trio it’s Edgerton, clearly emboldened by the opportunity to develop his former soldier into an emotionally scarred saving grace, who demands your attention. Since 2011’s Warrior, the actor is one of Hollywood’s most consistent, and busiest, performers. Undoubtedly, he’s the best thing about O’Connor’s western.
Having left home – and lover Jane (Portman) – to fight, Edgerton’s Dan Frost finds himself a prisoner of war, cut off from the outside world. Fearing him dead, Jane eventually moves on with her life. She finds another man (rogue-with-a-heart Bill Hammond played by Noah Emmerich), marries and settles down. Weary from the fight, Frost is eventually freed and goes in search of Jane who has long-since left their former home. When he finds her with child and a husband, he resigns himself to solitude. But their lives will cross again. When Hammond’s old gang leaves him for dead while settling an old score, an unresolved feud puts Jane’s life in danger. She turns to Frost to help her defend her home.
Edgerton’s pain is the most authentic thing about Jane Got A Gun. His courage to fight for the cause, to leave his “true love” and defend his land, has left him drifting in a place he once thought he knew so well. His courageous endeavours have left him burdened by resentment and anger. Crucially, he hasn’t lost that important commodity: love. If there’s any passion left in this man, it’s fuelled by Jane.
That’s what makes the film’s central conceit more baffling. The title suggests we’re going to witness a strong female protagonist, surely a key part of Portman’s decision to both produce and star in the film, but she’s curiously at the mercy of those men in her life. Instead of being a refreshing revisionist western with feminine edges, it shamelessly sticks to convention, feeling at times, clichéd. Certainly, McGregor’s cartoonish “wanted man” is caricature at best, his dialogue stifled somewhat by the actor’s recognition that he’s working with weak material.
The revenge motif makes things a little easier to digest but even that comes with problems. O’Connor’s decision to present the story in a non-linear fashion is grating at first before simply papering over the cracks in an undernourished build-up to the siege finale. Just as Portman’s “pearly whites” suggest vanity in the “old west” isn’t far removed from Hollywood’s 21st century glamour, we’re thrust into more artificiality by some wooden dialogue, equally awkward delivery, and melodramatic romance that sits a little uncomfortably at the root of the story.
But despite Jane Got A Gun’s distracting flaws, it boasts an appealing sense of injustice being remedied. It might actually over-do it but as a story about those defending their honour, family and home against a powerful aggressor, it ticks the boxes for mainstream audiences craving characters they can warm to, characters they can hate, and endings sugar-coated in optimism. They’re appealing virtues, it’s just a shame the film is so unremarkable.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Jane Got A Gun on DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film is released on Digital Download August 15 and Blu-ray & DVD August 22