Film Review: ‘Jane Got a Gun’

Jane Got a Gun review
Courtesy of the Weinstein Co.

The Weinstein Company may have unloaded this embattled Western without fanfare, but it should still appeal to genre fans.

There are movies that can make you feel nostalgic for a more innocent time — i.e., the pre-Internet era — when audiences (and critics) could approach each new release unburdened by detailed knowledge of its production history. “Jane Got a Gun,” a solidly made and conventionally satisfying Western, is one of those movies. For those who have perused the countless accounts of last-minute cast changes, musical directors’ chairs and repeatedly delayed release dates, it may be difficult to objectively judge what actually appears on screen here without being distracted by thoughts of what could have been, or should have been.

To be sure, a hefty percentage of the folks most likely to enjoy an old-fashioned oater such as this normally won’t devote massive quantities of time to consuming showbiz blogs and trade papers. But those unplugged genre aficionados may not know “Jane Got a Gun” exists, since the Weinstein Company opted to open it with only slightly more advance notice than is normally afforded a traffic accident. By the time word reaches most interested parties, this luckless sagebrush saga will have vamoosed from the megaplexes.

When it reaches home-screen platforms, however, “Jane Got a Gun” almost certainly will find a receptive audience for its revisionist yet respectful spin on genre conventions. Indeed, the only thing about it that might rankle traditionalists is the sporadic use of four- and five-letter words. (Yes, there still are people who get upset by the sort of thing. And many of those people feel under-served because Hollywood seldom gives them this sort of movie.)

Natalie Portman is persuasive and compelling in the lead role of Jane Hammond, a slightly built but formidably resourceful pioneer woman who’s greatly upset when John (Noah Emmerich), her husband, returns one day to their New Mexico Territory farm with several bullets in his innards. Mind you, John’s ambush is not a complete surprise to Jane, since he is an outlaw with a price on his head, and both of them have long been hunted by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), a grandiloquent villain with an old score to settle with the couple. But with her husband temporarily indisposed while he recovers from his wounds, Jane realizes she must even the odds as she prepares for the worst.

And so, after placing her young daughter out of harm’s way, Jane rides over to the tumbledown home of Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), a hard-drinking gunslinger with whom she shared a relationship — and more, it’s gradually revealed — years earlier. At first, Dan rejects Jane’s plea for help with a surly display of alcohol-fueled resentment. But when push comes to shove, well, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do — especially when it looks like a woman will dang well try to do it alone if he doesn’t.

Not surprisingly, considering the movie’s title, there is a perceptible feminist undercurrent to the screenplay credited to Edgerton, Brian Duffield and Anthony Tambakis. Jane is not your grandfather’s Western heroine: She can fire bullets into bad guys just as efficiently as she can take them out of her husband. Granted, she may not be the world’s surest shot when it comes to hitting a long-range target. But when she’s facing a foe in close quarters — particularly during the applause-worthy finale — she shoots and she scores. Portman handles the rough stuff quite convincingly throughout “Jane Got a Gun.” She’s at her best, though, in scenes where Jane demonstrates that maternal rage can be every bit as lethal as a quick draw.

Gavin O’Connor, a filmmaker whose intriguing resume runs the gamut from the warmly femme-centric (“Tumbleweeds”) to the aggressively macho (“Warrior”), maintains a deliberate pace, less a gallop than a canter, during what basically amounts to a readying-to-rumble narrative interspersed with backstory-abundant flashbacks. After the measured build-up, he effectively amps the excitement (with the invaluable assistance of editor Alan Cody) during the climactic shootout, then tops it off with a coda that slyly suggests what Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name might have done a few hours after the ending of “For a Few Dollars More.”

There are more than a few tips of the Stetson to other classic Westerns, ranging from visual quotes (a gaze-through-the-doorway shot that recalls the beginning and end of “The Searchers”) to plot developments (the “Magnificent Seven”-style approach to rigging booby-traps around the Hammond homestead). And there is a classical look and feel to the movie overall, with handsome widescreen lensing by Mandy Walker and aptly evocative music by Lisa Gerrard and Marcello de Francisci.

Edgerton hits the right balance of sullen gruffness and soulful sincerity as Dan, while McGregor artfully entwines amusement and menace as he serves generous slices of ham as John Bishop. Emmerich has little to do but lie in bed and indicate that being shot multiple times can really take a lot out of you. But what he does, he does well.

Film Review: 'Jane Got a Gun'

Reviewed at AMC Fountains 18, Houston, Jan. 29, 2016. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 98 MIN.


A Weinstein Company release and presentation, in association with Boies/Schiller Films of a Boies/Schiller Film Group production, in association with 1821 Pictures, HandsomeCharlie Films, Stone Village Pictures. Produced by Natalie Portman, Aleen Keshishian, Zack Schiller, Mary Regency Boies, Scott Steindorff, Scott LaStaiti, Terry Dougas. Executive producers, David Boies, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Dylan Russell, Chris Coen, Paris Latsis, Jason Rose.


Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Screenplay, Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton; story, Duffield. Camera (color), Mandy Walker; editor, Alan Cody; music, Lisa Gerrard, Marcello de Francisci; production designers, Tim Grimes, James Oberlander; set designer, Ricardo Guillermo; costume designers, Catherine George, Terry Anderson; sound, David Brownlow, Bayard Carey; assistant director, Ivan J. Fonseca; casting, Billy Hopkins.


Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Ewan McGregor.Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich, Rodrigo Santoro, Boyd Holbrook, Ewan McGregor.

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  1. edwardhyde2 says:

    who the hell would want to be in a movie with Portman – she has a range of expressiveness that goes from A to B, a depth of character ability that could be challenged by surface tension on water and is probably more wooden in her performances than the average tree.
    G*d knows how she got that Oscar but I guess we can imagine.

  2. Ann Pearson says:

    Today I had the pleasure of watching JANE GOT A GUN. I was unaware of the casting, production and distribution challenges behind this movie until researching to satisfy my curiosity on why I had not seen previews of JANE. As movie enthusiasts know, usually a movie is pushed for months before opening sometimes almost obnoxiously so. However this was not the case with JANE GOT A GUN and I for one am happy with that outcome. I average several movies a week and because the Academy Awards are soon upon us have found recent releases lacking. My head (and heart) were saddened by DIRTY GRANDPA given the cast and trailers. The outstanding yet troubling subjects of award nominees such as SPOTLIIGHT, THE SHORT AND 13 HOURS had me thirsting for satisfying entertainment such as JANE GOT A GUN.

    Thank you to all involved in the creation of JANE GOT A GUN for a good old fashion western which provides plenty of action, intrigue and a reminder of how love and survival are often interchangeable.

  3. This is one of the best reviews I’ve read of this movie, which is so far criminally under-rated.

  4. “And there is a classical look and feel to the movie overall, with handsome widescreen lensing by Mandy Walker and aptly evocative music by Lisa Gerrard and Marcello de Francisci.”

    After all these years of minimalist scores and so forth, at last a Western with a score like Bernstein…dare I hope? (Aside from “A Million Ways To Die, of course Please, let it be so!”

  5. Tee says:

    One day film reviews using the word “perceptible feminist undercurrent” will be gone and will sound almost bigoted. Unfortunately, one day hasn’t arrived yet, but the condescension and mocking tone of that paragraph definitely have.

    • Joe Leydon says:

      Mockery was not my intent. Perhaps it was your inference.

      • heartmagan says:

        I can understand your interpretation and appreciate the respect. My take was obviously different: I felt that every solution concerning her plight was way too dependant on men who conveniently loved her and she needed the permission of those men to succeed. But we can continue to respectfully disagree. I appreciate the time you took to explain your interpretation rather than be dismissive or insulting, which is unfortunately the most common reaction concerning feminism. I look forward to your future reviews.

      • Joe Leydon says:

        I respectfully disagree with your take on the film. (Warning for those who have not yet seen the film: Spoilers ahead.) First off, I don’t see her as the stereotypical damsel in distress. Any reasonably sentient individual would seek assistance if she knew a large and well-armed outlaw gang might invade her homestead. But you’ll notice that when her ex-lover initially refused to help, she loaded up on guns and ammo, indicating she would act on her own if necessary. And while she was obviously inexperienced in terms of handling a handgun, she could use a rifle quite handily. During the climax of the film, she saved her ex-lover, not vice versa, and then proceeded to, ahem, interrogate the chief bad guy before dismissing him. At the very end, the ex-lover was left to mind the children while she cleverly found a way to finance their happily-ever-aftering.

      • heartmagan says:

        Yes, I’ve seen the film. All she does is run around looking for someone to help her and conveniently is always left with a man by her side. That’s not exactly a feminist ideal and that’s the only real issue I take with this review; I’m exhausted by people misinterpreting feminism. I would have felt better if she didn’t feel like she had to marry the man who saved her from constant rape, or that the only person she could count on when her husband was indisposed was an embittered ex-fiance. Actually doing things on her own is feminist, not the veil thin veil of getting to decide that she needs a man.

      • Joe Leydon says:

        Heartmagan: Have you actually seen the film?

      • heartmagan says:

        “Feminist undercurrent” is only insulting because it is an incredibly shallow interpretation of how little “feminism” is actually represented in this movie. Just because she shoots a gun doesn’t make the movie feminist, as the unnecessary VO would have you think. The entire movie is not about how a woman defied conventions to make her way in the west, but how she kept finding able-bodied men to save her from bad guys.

  6. C. Navratil says:

    Premise sounds similar to the 1965 film Cat Ballou – a young Jane Fonda seeking to revenge the murder of her father by ruthless outlaw. Seeks help from notorious gunfighter, now grizzled old drunk. Outlaw and gunfighter both played by Lee Marvin. The Jane in this new film is surely a reference to Fonda. Surprised there was no mention of Ballou in this review.

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