Thursday, December 1, 2016

What's On Netflix?: JANE GOT A GUN

It is often customary to start a review off with a plot summary. However, when discussing this film, plot isn’t the first thing a viewer should know.

In 2011, a little screenplay called Jane Got A Gun by Brian Duffield appeared on The Blacklist, a yearly rundown of all the unseen, unmade, highly-desirable scripts in Hollywood. Natalie Portman was quickly attached to the product, accompanied by Lynne Ramsay, a polarizing but respected director. Michael Fassbender and Joel Edgerton joined the cast. Everything seemed to be going well for a time. Then Fassbender left, pointing to creative differences between himself and Ramsay. Thus began a relentless reshuffling of actors, directors, cinematographers, and writers as names like Jude Law and Bradley Cooper disappeared from top-billing as quickly as they appeared. The dust finally settled with Gavin O’Connor, hot off his successful film, Warrior, as director, Edgerton as co-writer and co-lead alongside Portman, and Ewan McGregor playing the film’s villain. Filming began in March of 2013. Nearly three years later, in January of 2016, the world finally saw Jane Got A Gun. Less than a year later, one of the most highly-praised scripts in existence ended up on the bottom of my “Suggestions for You” tab on Netflix.

Jane Got A Gun tells the story of a woman defending her home and loved ones from a bloodthirsty group of criminals. Jane Hammond lives in a cabin with her husband Bill and daughter Katie. Bill, a wanted criminal, comes home one day mortally injured by the Bishop Boys, a group of men terrorizing the Western frontier. Knowing she cannot defend herself and her dying husband alone, Jane seeks out her ex-fiancee, Dan Frost (played by Joel Edgerton). As John Bishop (McGregor) and his men come closer and closer to the cabin, Jane and Dan are forced to battle through both their troubled past together and the less-than-friendly forces around them.

When you assemble a cast of respected performers like Portman, Edgerton, and McGregor, it is almost inevitable that you will receive a film full of stellar acting. Natalie Portman shines in her role, channeling a quiet strength and resilience that reinforces the humble tone of Jane Got A Gun. Dialogue is understated in this film, only really serving to advance along a very image-driven movie. However, the fear and fortitude in Portman’s eyes puts this up with Black Swan as one of her most impressive acting feats. Edgerton plays an Edgerton-type hero well in a solid, if largely forgettable performance. Ewan McGregor disappears into his character, playing a near unrecognizable villain to sadistic, sinister excellence.

As a Western, this film pays tribute to the danger and the beauty of the Wild West in a skillful way. Action pieces are well-directed (especially one climactic fight scene). However, like O’Connor’s other 2016 release, The Accountant, the action takes a back seat to the character moments. Really, Jane Got A Gun is much more of a drama than an action film, featuring one of the most unnecessary R-ratings of the year, driven up into Adult territory by a few unnecessary blood spurts and three or four even less necessary R-caliber obscenities. A mild issue I have with Jane is simply that it would have made a much more successful PG-13 mid-March release than an R-rated January dump destined to be forgotten. 

There are definite problems with Jane Got A Gun. The story plods along slowly and methodically, which is not necessarily a negative. However, when this occurs to the extent of Jane, then it becomes extremely difficult to finish the film in one sitting without checking out a few times to scan Instagram while another deep, light-on-the-words-heavy-on-the-prolonged-eye-contact discussion occurs between Edgerton and Portman. The direction of the action scenes was also very ineffectual at times. In one pivotal scene, I could barely tell what was going on even with the brightness turned up all the way on my TV.

A common complaint voiced against this film involves the script. As detailed above, this movie went through rewrite after rewrite and director change after director change. Considering its history, nothing about Jane’s script felt unfathomably bad. Instead, it simply flowed mediocrely with dialogue only really serving to reinforce the non-dialogue-driven performances. Those production issues are the all-encompassing umbrella under which to put all complaints against Jane Got A Gun. I never felt like I was watching a cohesive film. Instead, I enjoyed a series of well-acted scenes that strung together to form an intriguing plot in an often unintriguing way.

So why did I like this movie after all that? Natalie Portman. That really is all it comes down to. Jane Hammond was a compelling character and Portman gave her everything to the role. I was mildly frustrated with her character, for, as I described to Ryan McKenna, one of MercWithAMovieBlog’s editors, “she is either the most badass damsel in distress ever or the most damsel in distress-y badass ever.” I would not have minded Jane being the standard female trope in a Western. I would have loved seeing her be an inversion of the tropes, embodying a progressive, strong-willed role. Instead, audiences got something directly in between. However, all that aside, Portman truly brought her A-game to the role, which alone drove this movie deep into Fresh territory. For, as the name implies, Jane Got A Gun fails or succeeds on the shoulders of Jane. Portman deserved a better movie than this. I am so ridiculously excited for Jackie now.

From the moment I first heard about Jane Got A Gun, I was excited. I’ve always loved Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman. Westerns hold a special place in my heart after growing up on John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. In the end, Jane Got A Gun does not earn a spot alongside The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Unforgiven, or other modern Western classics. However, it is definitely worth watching, especially since it is so easy to find on Netflix. In fact, despite its problems, it will probably end the year in my Top 20 or Top 25 of 2016.

Jane may not have a great flowing plot. It may have some major identity issues. However, despite all that, Jane definitely also has my stamp of approval. 

See Jane Got A Gun tonight. Check out Jackie tomorrow. Thanks for reading my ridiculously long review. Until next time, Mercs!

Jonathan’s Score: 7/10

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