Jane Got A Gun is a relatively simple western, but its title requires contemplation. I mulled it over on the train home while eating some sushi. Have you ever tried eating sushi on a train? I’d advise against it. I was hopelessly snapping at maki with my chopsticks while bouncing around on the fast service to Cambridge. The woman opposite me was visibly distressed by my haphazard application of soy sauce and wasabi. I dropped one of my sticks and watched it roll towards her, coating itself in the business day’s grime. She dry heaved and then moved seats. If you’re wondering what this has to do with Jane getting a gun, then you probably feel the same way I did by the end of the film.
Jane (Natalie Portman) needs a gun to protect herself and her wounded husband from a gang of outlaws led by Ewan McGregor and his moustache. What’s unclear is whether the ‘gun’ in question is referring to a firearm she personally acquires or the gunslinger (Joel Edgerton) she hires to do all the action scenes for her. Alternatively, she’s been gifted it by someone for Christmas. ‘Oh look, Craig got an Etch A Sketch and Jane got a gun.’ Anyway, it turns out there’s only about four people in this town and Edgerton’s character is the father of her first daughter. She has a second with her current, maimed partner.
Apart from setting up a rather awkward love triangle, director Gavin O’Connor does little else to establish Jane as the protagonist. Flashbacks to rosier times are seemingly from the two male perspectives and when there’s any hint of danger, she relies on them to come to her rescue. It’s a feminist’s film.
In fact, Edgerton’s character is the most layered, which I’m sure has nothing to do with him writing the screenplay. While he’s setting up Home Alone-style booby traps for their attackers, his emotional predicament is given far more attention than Jane’s. He went to war and by the time he came back she had a baby with another man. I can’t say I fully relate to this situation, but I once came home to discover someone had eaten my last Muller Corner and that was particularly distressing.
When she’s given the chance, Portman is ferocious as a pissed-off cowgirl mother. And that’s what I was expecting to see: the Black Swan on a rampage, shooting holes in the heads of gingivitis-riddled bandits while screaming absurdities about Attack of the Clones. As it happens, there’s only one real action scene – the one they showed in the trailer. Getting to that point is a bigger slog than watching the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Where recent westerns like True Grit and Django Unchained have helped to rejuvenate the genre, Jane Got A Gun helps it to slip back into a ditch. The film had its issues during production; a change of director and multiple alterations to the cast, but the biggest problem they faced was making the content match the fucking title.