Jane Got a Gun, Weinstein Co., 98 minutes, 2016
This independent Western starring Natalie Portman as the title character survived a plethora of production issues just to get made. First, director Lynne Ramsay quit the production before the first day of shooting, reportedly because it lacked a finalized budget, schedule or script. Then Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper each in turn dropped out of the project. Unfortunately, the production difficulties seem to have pervaded the final product, which often feels incongruous and unfinished.
Early in the film Jane Hammond’s husband, Bill (Noah Emmerich), returns to their isolated ranch house with grave wounds, his back full of lead. Hot on his trail and seeking revenge is his old gang, the Bishop Boys, led by devious John Bishop (Ewan McGregor). Determined to hold them off, Jane drops off her daughter with a neighbor, recruits former fiancé Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) for help and, as the title suggests, gets a gun. The rest of the film centers largely on Jane and Dan’s preparations for the Bishop Boys’ inevitable attack. Various flashbacks of their pre–Civil War relationship in Missouri and Jane’s journey West interrupt and ultimately bog down what could have been a short film. Tacked on in the final few scenes is a side plot involving a missing child that would have made for better stakes had it been introduced earlier.
So, what could’ve been an entertaining genre piece led by a very capable Portman is upended by a frustrating narrative that jogs in place while we wait for the showdown. Viewers will also likely ask, Why would Jane abandon her young daughter and face almost certain death for a dud of a husband who’s likely to die from his wounds? The film is never able to convincingly answer that question (and doesn’t even try to until the third act), nor does it sufficiently explore Jane’s bullheadedness on the matter. Jane, you’re better off fleeing to safety with the better man and your daughter—it seems so obviously misguided to reach for a gun.