There was a time when I was dizzy with anticipation over the Western Jane Got A Gun. But that was back when it was set to be director Lynne Ramsay’s follow-up the brilliant and brutal drama We Need to Talk About Kevin. That was back when Michael Fassbender was poised to sizzle opposite Natalie Portman as two old flames united in a fight to save the latter’s land and wounded husband from a band of vicious bandits. Then came the shit storm.
First, Fassbender backed out over scheduling conflicts, and Joel Edgerton was bumped from the villain’s role to that of Jane’s ex-lover. Then a battle with producers days before shooting pushed Ramsay to drop the project , sparking the newly cast Jude Law to leave as well. Bradley Cooper came and went as Law’s replacement before Ewan McGregor finally signed on. And somewhere in those messy weeks of negotiations and desperate attempts to keep this wagon rolling, the producers hired helmer Gavin O’Connor, best-known for such macho dramas as Warrior and Miracle.
That’s a lot of preamble before I tell you this Western is a total waste of time. But I want you to understand my disappointment. There was a time when this movie promised to be a blistering drama about a woman in the Wild West. With Fassbender and Portman, it seemed destined to bring devastating sexual allure into its dangerous tale. But all this fell apart, and all that remains is a limp drama without gravity, pace, tension or purpose.
Somewhere in the scraps of this story, I can see what once attracted Ramsay. As a beautiful woman just trying to live her life in untamed terrain, Jane is under constant threat by the men around her. But she will not buckle. There’s an obvious platform for rape culture commentary, or at the very least a story of suspense that could relate to modern women’s everyday concerns and trials. But nope. After Ramsay’s exit, the script originally penned by Brian Duffield was revised by Warrior’s Anthony Tambakis and by Joel Edgerton—who with The Gift infamously turned his female protagonist into an object of revenge. Apparently, the penning pair ignored Jane Got A Gun’s title and its implication of a proactive female protagonist fighting back, and somehow made it about the menfolk who surround and rescue her.
There’s a surprising amount of scenes where men discuss what’s to become of Jane, what they plan for Jane, and what they intend to do to Jane’s body. Jane herself gets a lot less screentime to tell us what she wants and who she is. By the film’s end, I couldn’t tell you that I knew the film’s pretty heroine as much as I knew a bunch of crazy shit that happened to her. Under O’Connor’s direction, his cast sleepwalks through this plodding plot that’s staggered with flashbacks meant to set up a shocking reveal. But every would-be twist is so heavily telegraphed that any potential tension is slaughtered.
It’s little wonder The Weinstein Company has been hiding this flick with sparse advertising and a dearth of press screenings. But it’s almost hilarious how the movie itself hides from its audience. Even in daylight, O’Connor drapes his sets and characters in thick, obscuring shadows. Sometimes, the screen is so swallowed in darkness that I couldn’t tell what the hell was happening. And when you can’t actually see the film’s climax, how engaged are you really expected to be?
Maybe it’s not fair to say Ramsay would have made a better movie. But you know what? It’d be almost impossible for her not to have.
Jane Got A Gun is a lifeless slog without character, vitality or heart. And reading what its stars say about all they’ve overcome to get it made, I just get mad. Edgerton told THR that Ramsay was taking a PG-script and morphing “it into an R-rated drama — the difference between tongue-in-cheek to scalping.” Considering the context of Jane’s life and struggles, an R-rating makes sense. But what did the producers settle on with O’Connor? According to Edgerton, “Somewhere in between.” Well, apparently between PG tongue-in-cheek and R-rated scalping there is a wide pool of festering horse shit.
Seriously, who’d have guessed Rebecca got the plum review assignment this week?
Kristy Puchko would like to point out Jane Got a Gun is rated R.