Saturday 10 September 2016

Review: Jane Got A Gun is an overcooked misfire

Just shoot me: Natalie Portman fails to convince

Jane Got A Gun (2016)
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor
Running time: 98mins

Behind-the-scenes upheaval – original director Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin) and Jude Law (Black Seaboth quit a few days before shooting was due to begin  isn't always the kiss of death for a film but in this case it clearly hasn't done the project any favours at all. Even then, the fact the title directly homages the Aerosmith song Janie's Got A Gun is at least promising, suggesting we might be in for wild ride full of heart and soul. Unfortunately, Gavin O'Connor's Western is more anodyne Adele album track than sassy, rock 'n' roll experience.

Natalie Portman (Black Swan) plays the titular Jane, forced to seek out the one-time love of her life (Joel Edgerton) for help when her badly-wounded current beau (Noah Emmerich) is in imminent danger from a band of wrong 'uns (led by Ewan McGregor). 

It's a potentially interesting set-up but one rendered largely lifeless by a screenplay determined to cram great big bits of plot in at every opportunity. There are multiple flashbacks, clumsy twists and turns, people explaining things to each other a lot – plot, plot, plot all over the place. You barely get a chance for any real character moments or reflective beats before we're flung headlong into another cack-handed chunk of exposition. A simple premise quickly becomes fussy and overcooked.

Mild, mild West: Jane Got A Gun is bland and laboured

It doesn't help that Portman's character has so little personality or any perceivable chemistry with either of the two men in her life (Emmerich's the best thing here and he spends most of his time semi-conscious). You look at Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in Tarantino's flawed but ferocious The Hateful Eight and she's someone you have no trouble believing in. Daisy's an entirely unpleasant creature, full of bile and racism, but the kind of life she's led is observable in every line on her face, in every twisted word out of her mouth. Portman's Jane – perfect teeth, flawless skin and bland personality – looks like she's just stepped out of a Vanity Fair photo shoot rather than a humble 1840s homestead in the middle of nowhere. 

With its cool title and Portman's starring role, it would be easy to mistake Jane Got A Gun for a modern 'feminist western' in the mould of Meek's Cutoff or The Homesman (both of which also boast very believable female characters), but that idea doesn't really fly either. The height of Jane's resourcefulness is recruiting a man to help her when the other man that had helped her gets shot up. In the hands of a better director and screenwriters, it could have been something special – big, bombastic, badass; a Shakespearean tragedy with six-shooters. As it is, the entire enterprise feels laboured, its ending far too neat. At least the photography's impressive, although it's difficult to go wrong in so picturesque and evocative a setting as Santa Fe, New Mexico. Rating: W½

Jane Got A Gun is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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