Few recent films have had as difficult a journey to the screen as this old-school western. Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’) was originally tipped to direct, but left on the first day of shooting taking star Jude Law with her. Bradley Cooper stepped in then abruptly dropped out to be replaced by Ewan McGregor, with director Gavin O’Connor succeeding Ramsay behind the camera.
The big question is why all the fuss? Because what’s here is really not worth spending three years and millions of dollars making. Natalie Portman plays Jane Hammond, a Wild West wife who calls on the assistance of an old flame, Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton), when murderous outlaw John Bishop (McGregor) comes gunning for her husband (Noah Emmerich). It should be a simple, classic set-up, as Dan and Jane bed in for a gunfight and Bishop’s boys lay siege to her remote farmhouse.
But O’Connor and his screenwriters can’t leave well alone, throwing in overlapping flashbacks, predictable character motivations and drippily sentimental scenes. And despite the title, this is far from the feminist western it was tipped to be when Ramsay was in charge: until the final moments, Jane is completely reliant on men to save her. ‘Jane Got a Gun’ is visually handsome, and there’s no faulting the performances – McGregor is particularly good value as the sadist Bishop, though with his pasty face and Victorian moustaches he does look like a member of hacking group Anonymous. But overall, the film just feels too much like an obligation, as though everyone involved had spent too much time and money to back out, so they forced themselves to grit their teeth and get on with it. You may feel the same.