Oh, man. You know I love westerns.
With its isolated, "under siege" setting and climatic all-out battle, Jane Got a Gun delivered on some of my most personally favorite classic Western components--while also including a fair amount of revisionist storytelling. And Mandy Walker's work as cinematographer (one of the most essential parts of any western) is fantastic.
Here's the bad news. The film is not without its problems, in many ways related to its script: most particularly the aggressively mediocre dialogue. It is difficult to evaluate the film without acknowledging the extremely tumultuous route it took to finally make it to the screen. It lost its director, Lynne Ramsay as shooting was to begin. And, that was a definite loss. Gavin O'Connor is an fine director, but I would have preferred to see Ramsay's vision for the film--especially in relation to the character of Jane. Similarly, there was a huge amount of actor shuffling--literally within days of each other. First, Michael Fassbender was to play the role of Jane's ex-lover/current gun-slinging helper, and Joel Edgerton was to play the bad guy. Then, Fassbender had to drop out and Edgerton hopped over to the hero side, while Jude Law took over as bad guy. Then, Law dropped out and Bradley Cooper joined. Literally three days later, Cooper dropped out, and Ewan McGregor was offered the part the day before shooting.
And, because, Ewan literally makes like 8 films a year just for the fun of it, he was all up for that:
Note: How is one person that charming? Comes off a tad ridiculous and unnecessary to be that delightful, Ewan. SHEESH.
Anyway, the production stress does come through in the film (other key crew members also left with Ramsay), and the script was rewritten a few times. Even poor Joel Edgerton got a screen-writing credit.
All that to say, that I still quite enjoyed the movie. I was a little ambivalent on the flashbacks, and even more uncomfortable with Jane being given a backstory of rape--for the seemingly sole purpose to make her more sympathetic. It was in terms of this story that I think Ramsay could have handled much better, or perhaps had more control over the script. I don't know?
That cast though. Of all the actors who cycled through (and I really like some of them), the correct combination was in the final film. Natalie Portman (an actor I don't always care for) was perfect in tone and performance. Her character was above all resilient, and she played that well--giving nuance and depth that wasn't necessarily in the script (and certainly not in the dialogue). What follows in the film after the still below is gloriously fierce and satisfying, and not a moment that female western protagonists are often allowed:
I am so glad that Joel Edgerton switched from the bad guy role to the conflicted anti-hero (ain't no flawless white hat heroes in westerns anymore), because although he is always good at straight-up villains, I really enjoyed his performance here. It's the classic "lacks purpose and driven to alcoholism because life is unfair and he doesn't have anyone to love, but he's gonna get it together one last time" character. It shouldn't work. And I was really not having his character's pity-party pettiness/possessive attitude, until a subtle--but key--moment when he tells Jane that he will listen to her "story." Also, if I'm being honest, I wanted Noah Emmerich dead the entire movie, because Joel Edgerton's sad face GETS ME.
The man has the most effective tears--second only to Omar Sharif!
And, there was Ewan. Blessed Ewan. This dork got his hair dyed jet black and had the most clearly evil mustache I have seen in ever so long.Side note:Exhibit A: Joel (and Tom Hardy) as bros who fight & cry; fight & cry in Warrior.
Half the time, it was impossible to tell it was Ewan. He never usually plays anything quite so evil, and it was clear that he was thoroughly enjoying the entire process. Similarly, his charisma perfectly suited the character--especially as he played off of his gang members: always so far ahead of them in thought and intention and impatiently waiting for them to catch up. It's clear from the start that he is unequivocally evil (he is introduced torturing a man for information) as a wanted murderer and trafficker of vulnerable women and girls, but there is still something about Ewan's performance that hints at greater complexities and shades to his character (which is not at all expressed in the script).
Also, bless this movie. Because, through it, we got this gloriously horrifying paparazzi shot of Ewan:
I certainly condemn the paps for stalking poor Ewan! That's not cool! But, this photo though.
But, I digress.
I do recommend this film, but possibly more to genre fans who have a fluent understanding of westerns and are able to overlook some mediocre elements. Because, that climatic firefight (and I do mean FIREfight) was definitely worth it; as is Jane's grandest moment of maternal rage. Also worth it: a moment that subverted the white knight rescuer idea; the confident final scene; Joel Edgerton's sad face and/or magical tears; Ewan's evil mustache that may have been cackling on its own at one point; and the gorgeous and amazing camera work by Mandy Walker.
P.S. Won't anybody think of Poor, Sad Joel (tm)?!