Troubled production histories don’t always lead to terrible movies, but the Natalie Portman Western “Jane Got a Gun” was more troubled than most. Original director Lynne Ramsay failed to show up on what would have been the first day of shooting after a dispute over production scheduling and final cut, and some roles has been cast with as many as three different actors by the time Gavin O’Connor (“Warrior”) finally took the reins. Then there was original distributor Relativity Media filing for bankruptcy, and the film’s planned French release being disrupted by the Paris attacks. The final insult: “Jane” opened today with no press screenings and not even a late-Thursday sneak to allow critics a minuscule head start.
No surprise, the end product turns out to be not particularly good, at least according to the few critics who braved the public screenings. Among other things, “Jane” betrays the promise of its feminist title, with Portman’s Jane, a “ranch mother” out to avenge her murdered husband and protect their child, not getting her hands on a firearm until the film’s climax, and spending much of her time being saved by co-screenwriter Joel Edgerton. It doesn’t even sound like a fun disaster, just a movie that would have died with anyone else in the starring role, and perhaps should have anyway.
Reviews of “Jane Got a Gun”
David Jenkins, Little White Lies
Jane’s got a gun, but she doesn’t get to actually use it – there’s a dude who lives across the prairie to take care of all that nasty business. Giving the time-honoured “troubled production history” a very bad name indeed, Gavin O’Connor’s flinty but flat follow-up to 2011’s MMA carve-up, “Warrior,” is a film that feels like it has been cobbled together from bad outtakes by a boardroom full of people who have absolutely no idea what they’re supposed to be making.
We’re deliriously scrambling for something — anything! — nice to say about the film, but it just has so very little going for it. Even as a tin-eared but wannabe-feisty genre exercise it fails to satisfy, leaning on long, heavily accented and drably humorless dialogue exchanges in which characters essentially tell each other what viewers will have just seen in the flashbacks.
Anthony Lane, New Yorker
I never even managed to sort out the geographical basics, such as how far it is, by horse, between the characters’ dwellings. When Jane pops over to Dan’s place, she’s like Phoebe, in “Friends,” going to see if Chandler and Joey are in. Then, there’s the weaponry. As titles go, “Jane Got a Gun” has a slangy punch, but the fact is that, when Jane got a gun, she wasn’t no good with the gun she got. So she got another gun. No matter how many guns she got, though, she got no satisfaction. In truth, she should have got another line of work. Put the evidence together, and it’s no surprise that this poor little movie fires blanks. It never wanted to be a Western at all.
Jordan Mintzer, Hollywood Reporter
Portman certainly commits herself fully to the role, and one can imagine how much the double-duty of starring in and presiding over such a troubled project was no simple turkey shoot. Still, at times, the actress seems almost too graceful to be playing a woman in Jane’s predicament, especially one living under harsh conditions and suffering years of strife across the continent. (In terms of Western gals, she’s the polar opposite of Jennifer Jason Leigh in “The Hateful Eight,” incapable of muttering at least one swear word or having a single hair fall out of place. But she still is a pretty good shot.)
As a man forced to save the woman who pretty much ruined his life, Edgerton probably brings the most nuance to the movie, and the way he initially forces himself into a life-or-death situation on Jane’s behalf has a tragic side to it that’s much less macho than it is forlornly romantic. In any case, his Frost character is definitely more convincing than McGregor’s maudlin Bishop, who looks like he belongs in an episode of Deputy Dawg, while Emmerich (“The Americans”) does his best with a part that has him bedridden and plastered on bourbon for most of the running time.
Casey Cipriani, Refinery 29
Even though Jane faces her adversaries to protect her husband and young daughter, the movie manages to make her, the protagonist, a supporting character in her own story. Worse, she’s a victim many times over, one who’s continually portrayed as a prize for the male characters to win. All anyone really seems to care about is who Jane “belongs to,” because it certainly isn’t herself. Whether it’s Bill, Dan, or Bishop, the men all claim ownership of her and engage in staring contests while uttering the occasional gruff, “She’s not your property” or, “A man taking a thing that don’t belong to him….” Even accounting for historical accuracy, it all feels more than a tad retrograde. It’s hard to imagine that this is the movie that Portman (who also produced) envisioned when she signed on in 2012.
Lisa Nesselson, Screen Daily
The motivations and the performances are solid in “Jane Got a Gun,” an attractively mounted post-Civil War revenge drama with plenty of shooting and a well-placed twist or two. There’s no reason to dwell on the film’s troubled production history or the misfortune of its France-led release being put off twice — most recently in the immediate wake of the November 13th Paris attacks — because what’s on screen is, for the most part, both suspenseful and entertaining if comfortably familiar. Natalie Portman as the titular Jane shows plenty of frontier gumption as a mother who finds herself fighting for her life alongside her wounded husband and her former lover.
There’s nothing post-modern or trendy or revisionist about this tale, which may make it less interesting to young audiences. But it boasts some lovely moments that will stick with older viewers.