Jane got a Gun will probably go down in history as that film Lynne Ramsey didn’t direct – the director left the project on the first day of shooting along with Jude Law and Michael Fassbender, who was then replaced by Bradley Cooper who then also left. And the absence of the distinctive director looms large over the final film. With Ramsey gone, Gavin O’Connor was the hired gun brought on to direct, along with his Warrior co-star, Joel Edgerton. Finally, Jane had a film.
When the titular Jane’s (Natalie Portman) husband comes home with bullet holes aplenty and the bad news that his old gang, headed up the notorious John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), are on their way to finish the job, she has to turn to her ex-fiancé, Dan (Joel Edgerton), for help. If the plot sounds slight that’s because it is. Other than it’s central premise, the only other thing happening in O’Connor’s western is a handful of expositional flashbacks that aim to create some emotion but always feel cobbled together. The relationship between Portman and Edgerton is where the film plums emotional depths but this falls victim to its ninety four minute running time.Modern westerns have an edge to them. This year’s Bone Tomahawk infused western tropes with the horror genre, Slow West oozed cool and with Jane got a Gun, the narrative aspires to something new, a western told from the point of view of a woman, but then the film never lives up to this idea. There are flashes of what this film could have been. Jane loading up her revolver getting ready to fight will have you think it’s her who will do the dirty work but then as soon as Edgerton is in the fold all gunslinging duties are left up to him. Instead, Jane is a wannabe feminist stuck in a patriarchal world she barely does anything to fight against and the film doesn’t help her thanks to it’s complete lack of care to engage with the topic of gender roles. Jane has got a gun but she doesn’t do a whole lot with it.
Yet considering the film’s troubled production, you would expect it to be a complete mess, but this isn’t the case. O’Connor may not be a director with a distinctive style or personality but he proves a solid set of hands, offering up pedestrian but still impressive visuals. The same can be said of the cast; Portman is perfectly fine in the central performance and Edgerton is as good as ever but they both deserve stronger material. Ewan McGregor feels a little lost as the insubstantial big bad, never truly menacing despite his grizzly introduction, and feeling a little like a cartoon villain.
While everything comes together, there is no escaping the fact that there is a better version of this film lost in its troubled production. Ramsey’s films may prove divisive but they all have something special about them, feeling unique to her and that’s exactly what this film needed. Leaving you wondering, what would Lynne have done?