I’m not sure if there has ever been a movie plagued by more production troubles than this one that actually ended up getting made. Three years ago, the problems started and they almost never stopped. I won’t get into those details (here you go) but I applaud everyone involved for seeing it through and getting it done. And it’s easy to assume that a film with so many troubles is going to expose said troubles for all to see right up there on the screen. Oftentimes, they do. But not always. And most of the time, the audience can’t even tell that a production had problems if they aren’t aware of them going in. I think this movie fell somewhere in the middle. But I never decide before seeing a film if I’m going to like it, no matter what I’ve heard. (With one exception. Yep. That’s you, “White Chicks”.)
So, I went into “Jane Got A Gun” open-minded (though unsure about how to interpret the title, grammatically speaking. Is . . . is that in the past tense?). And I haven’t typically been a “western guy”. I always tended to go for more contemporary stories as they were easier for me to relate to. Then, over the last five years or so, I came to realize that genre is irrelevant. In fact, there’s a strong argument for the idea that genre is an illusion. Any film is essentially about characters going through a story. Those characters and stories can be adapted for any time, place, and so-called genre. This idea first occurred to me as I watched the Jet Li/Bob Hoskins feature “Unleashed”. During that film, I had the nagging feeling that I’d seen it before. It continued to persist and it really began to nag at me. Eventually, it dawned on me that I had seen it before; it was essentially a re-telling of “Lilo & Stitch”! The same basic story and characters told as both an animated family film and an R-rated martial arts action film. So, yes, in my mind, genre is an illusion, only adding an attractive sheen to a film and no longer carrying any real weight.
But back to the movie at hand, one of the huge issues facing this film was the revolving cast. Natalie Portman was locked from the get-go but her male supporting cast was in and out more than Wilt Chamberlain at his bachelor party. Ultimately, this had no negative effect in my opinion. In fact, I think it worked out well as Joel Edgerton’s performance was my favorite aspect of the film. He was subtle and raw, quietly looming over all of his scenes with a just-under-the-surface edge. He felt real and honest, especially for a man of that time period.
Ewan McGregor was good but there honestly wasn’t much asked of him. I like Natalie Portman and liked her here for the most part with the exception of one particular moment, where she just exploded in an exaggerated burst of emotion that didn’t sit right with me, at all. The moment certainly called for strong emotion, but the choice she made in the performance struck me as being way too unnatural, with no consideration for the way the human brain and body both process and express emotion. It was just one moment, and I hate to put too much emphasis on it. But it was a critical moment and she took me out of it by making me question if she fully thought it through.
Beyond this, I felt the film struggled to wade through a bland, soulless script. I wish I didn’t feel that way as the basic story had promise. And it started well, with a tender moment featuring Jane and a child, followed by the title card ominously foreshadowing that “Jane Got a Gun” (present tense?). What happens to Jane that requires her to brandish this gun? Well, stuff. And, again, the ideas aren’t all bad. They’re just executed with the energy of Eeyore in a yoga class. Based on the events as they played out, my emotions should have been all over the place. But I felt nothing. Not a single moment of excitement, happiness, sadness, suspense, humor, dread, heartbreak . . .. Nothing. And as I’ve said before, the point of art is to elicit feeling. With such a strong cast, I was hoping for something that they could really dive headfirst into and mold into something memorable, such as the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”. But there’s only so much even the greatest actors can do with lifeless dialogue and uneventful exposition scenes.
Too many story elements were clichéd tropes of convenience, as well. Apparently, the villainous gang went to target practice with the Stormtroopers, luckily for (some? most? all?) of our heroes. And Jane’s plan to survive her predicament was frightfully short-sighted and she was undeservingly satisfied with it. Maybe it was a deliberately understated complacency, which would have made sense within the story. But based on her behavior once the time came to enact the plan, that was not the case. Too bad, as it would have added a soft and subtle touch to the proceedings and a tragic complexity to her character.
But let’s stop relying on these tropes, okay, everybody? They’re tired, they make no sense, and more discerning audiences hate them. Yes, they’re convenient and easy – especially for a troubled production. But it’s a creative person’s job (and it should also be their desire) to find a way around these sorts of devices and elevate the level of their piece by doing so.
Maybe the hot potato of the custodianship of this picture was, in fact, to blame for the utterly mediocre (at best) result. Perhaps everyone who at one point had creative control all wanted the film to be something different from the others and, as a result, it became a Brunswick stew of all of it, which meant we got very little of any of it.
However, I can understand the pride that those involved in the final product might have. It’s like a student who struggles and struggles in a college course, always on the verge of failing, but manages to just pull it out in the end. Getting a D isn’t anything to brag about but, under the right circumstances, it can feel like a victory.
And that’s a final line, everybody! I feel like I’m finally off to the races on this little venture, after several delays throughout January. So, if all goes to plan, I’ll see you again, soon!
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