Hot on the heels of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and Alejandro Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” is “Jane Got a Gun,” the third major Western film to come out of Hollywood in as many months.
Helmed by relatively low-profile director Gavin O’Connor, “Jane” features several big-name actors who deliver excellent performances in the service of a decent script.
Natalie Portman stars as the titular Jane Hammond, a frontier woman whose monotonous existence is shattered when her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) staggers home with five bullets in his back, having nearly been killed by the Bishop Boys – a vicious gang intent upon finishing the job.
In desperation, Jane seeks the help of Dan Frost, a washed-up ex-lover who lives nearby. The laconic rancher, played by Joel Edgerton, reluctantly agrees to help Jane defend her family, despite an undisguised hatred for Bill.
Moviegoers looking for old-time shootouts and gunplay would do well to revisit “The Hateful Eight” while it’s still in theaters. The main source of drama in “Jane” is derived from frequent flashbacks to the characters’ shared past, which – save for a few exceptions – lacks the violence one might anticipate in something like a low-budget cowboy flick.
The tendency of "Jane" to subvert audiences’ expectations is both its greatest strength and ultimate flaw: it leads to surprises and disappointments both. Portman’s Jane is not the self-reliant gunslinger she ought to be; she is instead nearly helpless, needing the men in her life to protect her. However, the film’s unpredictability allows for a satisfyingly unforeseen ending and several interesting reveals throughout the movie’s lean hour and a half.
While the onscreen presence of Jane and Dan is nearly constant, the film’s chief villain, Billy Bishop, is drastically shortchanged of screen time. The dapper leader of the Bishop’s Boys is played skillfully by a drawling Ewan McGregor, who co-starred with both Portman and Edgerton in several installments of the “Star Wars” franchise. McGregor’s cigar-puffing Bishop is easily “Jane’s” most interesting character, and his absence from the majority of the film quickly becomes frustrating.
“Jane Got a Gun” lacks “The Hateful Eight’s” snappy dialogue, and the epic nature of “The Revenant,” but it matches the suspense of Tarantino’s latest and is just as smart as Iñárritu’s over-hyped tale of survival. Go see “Jane” if you haven’t seen the latter films – in the West, there are only the quick and the dead, and “Jane’s” a little slow on the draw.