The popularity for the western ebbs and flows and every time the genre looks ready to be put out to pasture, along comes a film which re-energises it and kicks-off a whole new spate of ‘oaters’. However, for every Dances With Wolves or True Grit comes a financial disaster which again brings about rumours of the genre’s demise. Which brings us nicely to 2015’s Jane Got A Gun.
To say the production of Jane Got A Gun was troubled is an understatement. High profile casting switcheroos galore made the film get noticed for all the wrong reasons (Michael Fassbender, Jude Law and Bradley Cooper all came and went) and then original director Lynne Ramsey failed to show up on the first day of shooting, leaving producers scrambling to find a replacement.
Director Gavin O’Connor stepped into the breach and grabbed the reins, casting Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor and Noah Emmerich alongside Natalie Portman’s Jane. The film shouldn’t be any good (Edgerton also rewrote it when he came onboard) but it’s an absolute cracker. A rootin-tootin western with great performances and a wonderful sense of tension. There’s a nice High Noon meets Rio Bravo vibe to this which really hits a nerve – it’s not flashy, just well constructed.
The story is simple, Jane (Portman) and her husband (Bill) have rubbed up the evil John Bishop (McGregor) up the wrong way. Bishop shoots Bill and injures him and then comes a-gunning for Jane. She reaches out to her boozy old boyfriend (Edgerton) to strap on his six-gun and protect her homestead. He unwilling obliges, setting the scene for a showdown where the good guys are outnumbered by the bad.
Joel Edgerton continues to be a Movies In Focus favourite, quietly dominating everything he appears in. The complexity to Emmerich’s Bill Hammond was also nicely played, while Ewan McGregor made for a good moustache-twirling villain. Surprisingly the weakest link is Portman – odd considering this was her baby (she produces). Her Jane needed a bit more grit (possibly of the true variety), but maybe the behind-the-scenes shenanigans tired her out before the cameras started rolling.
Jane Got A Gun isn’t perfect – it has a few misplaced flashbacks and the ending is a bit rote, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty you see that it’s a great western. Gavin O’Connor’s film had a bad reputation before it even started shooting and that’s a shame – this deserves to be judged on what it is – a damn fine western.