A strong female role at the helm of a Western? I’m all in. Jane Got a Gun is the most recent film from the genre to burst onto the big screen and, with most audiences having a love/hate relationship with Westerns (if you hadn’t guessed, I am absolutely the former), it was unsurprising to see a very split opinion on the success and quality of Jane Got a Gun before I went to a screening. However, it’s hard not to be attracted to a film with such an experienced cast boasting the likes of Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Joel Edgerton and Noah Emmerich without having fairly high expectations. With a running time of 98 minutes I was very impressed with the pacing of the film, definitely a stride away from your typical slow building Westerns, but it managed to work well as the focus wasn’t on a town or its people, but instead a single family. Director Gavin O’Connor also uses several flashbacks throughout his storytelling, which again, to my surprise, worked extremely well and are not that common within the genre, so another bold move pays off here.
Now, the obvious step away from tradition in this film is having a female lead, and I was absolutely behind this idea and couldn’t wait to see a badass Natalie Portman tearing up the West in her quest for vengeance. Sadly, this was not exactly the case. The film was definitely advertised this way but it seemed as if O’Connor couldn’t actually decide whether to riddle Portman’s character with weaknesses or keep pushing this strong female lead. The narrative becomes more a case of “I want to be a wife to my husband and need a man to help me get rid of all the problems in my life caused by the other men in it – including my husband”, making it difficult to understand some of Jane’s motives. The idea that the West is a hostile place for women is still an underlying theme of this film, even with Portman at the helm. However, the fact that Jane, despite being under constant threat of being overpowered or even raped during everyday life, keeps on going with passionate determination and is unfazed by these aspects is where the badass part of her character shines through.
As expected, the supporting cast came through extremely well in carrying this film forward, but the man who went above and beyond expectations was Ewan McGregor. His portrayal of the main villain, John Bishop, the leader of antagonist gang, The Bishop Boys, was a unique and gritty Western outlaw. The dyed black hair and beard threw me off a little to begin with but Bishop’s evil was so complex and set apart from typical Western outlaws that every scene he was involved in was absolute gold. All the way to the end John Bishop is a ruthless businessman and in many scenarios we see a true humanity in him to contrast his outlaw demeanour, I just wish there was more for him in the scripting of this film, especially in the climax as his lines were somewhat disappointing to say the least.
Jane Got a Gun is, to put it bluntly, romance meets Western with a more powerful input from romance within this collision of genres than maybe most of us would have liked. Nonetheless, I am glad I went to see this film and enjoyed it for the most part with a few frustrations here and there. Gavin O’Connor certainly tackles this film with ambition but, true to the wider audiences’ response, around three quarters of this film was amazing and shot beautifully while the rest felt somewhat frustrating and just mediocre, but if you can get past that then it’s certainly a film I would recommend.