Movie Review: 'Jane Got a Gun' (2015)

When her husband (Noah Emmerich) is gravely injured by his former gang, Jane (Natalie Portman) grabs a gun and reaches out to her ex-flame (Joel Edgerton) for help combating the incoming attack of her husband’s enemies. The ingenuity principally setting “Jane Got a Gun” apart from the genre is that it is the rare Western to center on a female protagonist.

While many Westerns have featured a female character, this is one of the exceptional entries to feature her story as prominently as her male counterpart’s. The problem is if she were a better fleshed out central character, it would have elevated this plot point beyond sheer gimmickry.

With a woman riding shotgun in the saddle, "Jane” overly relies on this unique quality to distract from its scripted shortcomings. A Western with a non-linear plot progression that unravels the love story/mystery of what transpired between Jane and her ex; it maintains a driving mystique that while captivating is also hard to follow.

Jane’s choices are especially puzzling, and both Dan and her husband come off as victims of a woman constantly making one wrong decision after another and acting as though she has been the only victim of unfortunate circumstances and the unfair dealing of life’s cards.

As we peel back the layers, the central characters both gain and lose points; sometimes within the span of a single scene. The begrudging love triangle that forms is ironed out predictably, and as they tend to be, the losing side is treated as little more than a doorway between destinations.

It is this incessant trope that continually bogs down love stories and for a movie trying so hard to embrace its progressive originality that it gets lost in the thorny grove of its own repetitious leanings.

The rivalry and rough talk between Dan and Jane’s husband feels disingenuous to the point of contrivance, particularly given that it is coming from a gentleman of Dan’s standing. He often comes across as a sore sport towards a man, he should be grateful to and whose only crime was getting tangled up with a woman, whose heart could never be his.

On a performance level, Portman and Egerton both give terrific, often heartbreaking performances and Ewan McGregor is a scene stealer as the villain gunning for our star-crossed heroes.

It is easily one of McGregor’s finest performances as he utterly disappears into the role. Unfortunately for Portman, while the script gives her a lot to bite into, it also offers little to nothing new for her to play.

As the film charts Jane’s tragedy-laden journey, one cannot help notice that the character herself remains somewhat stagnant in tonality. As she falls into a very similar vein as most of Portman's screen protagonists. They tend to be brittle on emotion, dour in spirit, and thoroughly disenchanted with life. Jane shares all of those commonalities with the added nuance of motherhood.

It is this small variance that allows for some breathing room in characterization, though it falls short of a full recitation. Portman has shown the capacity to shine beyond this typecasting, so to have a feature all to herself and still have the writing lack the dynamism she is capable of pulling off is disappointing.

"Jane Got a Gun" keeps your attention as both a romantic melodrama and a Western. It runs on big emotion and the looming sensation of a dreaded showdown. "Warrior" director Gavin O'Connor keeps the film from biting the bullet, although it never quite hits the bulls-eye it's aiming for.

Rating: 6.5/10

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