I saw Jane Got a Gun this evening. Dazza told me to enjoy the film and asked me to write a review. I responded with “I’ll try,” and I did. I tried to care about the story. I tried to care about the characters. But I just couldn’t. I feel like the last couple of my reviews of Natalie’s films can be summed up as “Well, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good, either,” and Jane Got a Gun is no exception.
Disclaimer: There aren’t any spoilers that you didn’t already see in the trailers. I am not Dazza or Andreas; writing is not my forte. You’ve been warned.
While it isn’t the disaster the nightmare production suggested, it is incredibly, frustratingly mediocre. I feel quite badly for the people responsible for picking up the pieces, because the entire time I kept asking myself, “Why was this movie made?” Why was so much effort put into bringing this story to life? It brings nothing new to a tired genre, and it doesn’t say anything. It certainly doesn’t feel like a passion project; the production feels void of any real passion.
I found this review difficult to write because I just didn’t care enough about this movie to really comment on it. Absolutely nothing stands out. The story is almost too simple. It’s told partially in flashbacks, and the transitions are jarring. We don’t really get to know any of the characters, and their motivations are either superficial or unclear. The villain John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) is a one-note caricature. I’m surprised he didn’t twirl his mustache. Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), Jane Hammond’s marble-mouthed, curmudgeonly ex-fiancé, is the human embodiment of manpain. Her husband Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) is a criminal gone straight, but we don’t get to know much else about him because he spends most of the movie laid up. Jane is just sort of there, rolling with the punches. The dialogue is rather poor at times and there’s very little of it that’s not exposition. There are a few moments, but ultimately the film doesn’t do a good job of building suspense. Even the action is a little boring. The score sounds like an afterthought and is all over the place thematically. The over-the-top happy ending is ridiculous.
The cinematography is nice. The direction is adequate. The cast is good. Natalie holds her own, but her performance isn’t terribly noteworthy. Jane isn’t terribly noteworthy. While it’s nice to see Natalie playing a woman (as opposed to the girls and ingénues that make up most of her resumé), her character is just as frustrating as the film itself.
Refinery29’s piece about the film being “unbelievably sexist” (since changed to “actually really sexist”) is not completely off the mark, though the writer misrepresents the relationship between Jane and her husband (I was afraid it was going to be the old “woman falls in love with her abuser” trope, and that’s really not the case). My biggest beef with the film is that this really doesn’t feel like Jane’s story. With the exception of the opening and closing of the film, we spend more time with Dan and know more about what’s going on in his head than Jane’s. And while she empowers herself and has some agency, there is an awful lot of male posturing and talk about who Jane belongs to. There was so much dialogue devoted to this that I thought (hoped) that it was going to be a theme the film was going to explore (à la Mad Max: Fury Road), but it never goes there. The film doesn’t really say anything.
Are there elements of sexism in the film? Yes. Is the film inherently sexist? No. I think expecting the character to be the wild west version of Furiosa is a bit silly. But there is a scene that is just as silly, and I rolled my eyes even when I saw it out of context of the film in the trailer. Jane’s a good shot with a rifle, but she’s worthless with a handgun. We’re to believe that Jane has had a pretty rough life on the lawless American frontier and has fled a violent gang that wants her husband dead and would do harm to her. She learned to hunt, but she never learned to shoot a pistol to protect herself? Then in another scene, she’s skilled enough to aim and accurately hit a character in his extremities in low light. Come on! I know it’s nitpicky, but it feels like it was just put in to be cute and it doesn’t work.
I can’t say I enjoyed Jane Got a Gun. It felt very much like a made for television movie. I can see a cleaned up version being at home on the Lifetime Movie Network. If I had caught this on television and Natalie wasn’t starring in it, it wouldn’t have been long before I changed the channel. Could Lynne Ramsay have taken the film in a different direction? Would the story have been more compelling if they had stuck to Brian Duffield’s original screenplay? Would Michael Fassbender have changed the dynamic of the cast (or would he have completely overshadowed Natalie)? Unfortunately, what was going on behind the scenes was way more interesting than what made it onscreen.