When dealing with a somewhat simplistic, endearingly minimalist narrative, to maintain the pace and captivation you’re reliant – perhaps even more so than usual – on a quick-witted, pulsating screenplay to engage with the viewer. Just take Slow West – a similarly structured western released last year, which thrived in such an area. Gavin O’Connor’s Jane Got a Gun, however, struggles in that very department, and turns what could be a great film into a distinctly mediocre one.
Natalie Portman takes on the role of the eponymous protagonist, who welcomes the arrival of her husband (Noah Emmerich), only to realise he’s been shot and wounded in the persisting battle against John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his gang of outlaws. As he warns his wife, and their young child, that the conflict may be coming home with him, Jane desperately seeks the help of her former partner Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), knowing that without his assistance she could be killed. Reluctant at first, but when Jane fills Dan in about the horrors which she has faced in recent years since their break-up, his sympathy ensures he’s standing right by her side, prepared for the ensuing battle to commence.
Having gone through a wealth of challenges during production, what has resulted from the ever-changing cast, and even director – with O’Connor replacing Lynne Ramsay – is a distinct lack of palpable identity, as it’s a film that is seemingly unsure of exactly what it is vying to be. The narrative structure is simple, for instance, as we build up pensively to the final battle, but becomes so needlessly complex in parts; and while we appreciate Jane is haunted by memories from her past, we don’t need to see them – a notion in no way enhanced by the clumsy use of flashbacks, implemented in a clunky, contrived manner. Another issue that derives from the controversial shoot, is that poor casting of McGregor. The actor has taken on a role that had once belonged to Edgerton (who gave it up to take on the role of Dan Frost after Michael Fassbender departed the project) and was subsequently given to Jude Law and then Bradley Cooper, who both walked away too. McGregor is simply too likeable to play such a reprehensible, nefarious villain – whereas Edgerton maintains an intensity to his demeanour, and may have made for a more formidable opponent for our protagonist to face up against.
In spite of the flaws that exist, O’Connor has shown off his ability to maintain his creative means of storytelling with an indelible use of sound, as the brutal echo of the gunshots works successfully against the serenity of the landscape in a remarkable fashion. There may well have been a lot written about this film and the troubles faced in taking it from the page to the silver screen, and while by no means a great film, it’s far from the disaster it had once threatened to be.