It took almost three years for this tepid and troubled remake of “Hannie Caulder” to be released. Taking so long, in fact, that co star, and co-writer of Jane Got a Gun, Joel Edgerton wrote, directed and co-starred in his own film, “The Gift.”
However, apart from the female protagonist being raped by a gang of unpleasant villains, there is little to tie these two films together. Jane, played by Natalie Portman, does not benefit from a Robert Culp type character who spends a good bit of time teaching her how to win in a gunfight.
The villains are not grotesque off-shoots of humanity; all bigger than life and equally disgusting while simultaneously being quite funny. (The original gang, all three of them, were played by western stalwart Jack Elam and – fresh off their The Wild Bunch roles as Dutch and the one of the bounty hunters – Ernest Borgnine and Strother Martin.)
A completely unrecognizable Ewan McGregor was the only “name’ in the villain’s camp and unlike the Caulder trio, never seemed to have laid a hand on Jane, let alone anything else. While Jane Got a Gun went through two directors, one before a single frame of film had been shot and a number of leading men, it does entertain.
In many ways it is a superior film to the 1971 Raquel Welch original. To be fair, “Hannie Caulder” was an attempt to cash in on flat brimmed hats, ponchos and a fast draw who could also dispense witticisms as well as bullets. It was, after all, the age of the Spaghetti Western.
Jane Got a Gun does not depict Jane as a helpless “little woman.” When her husband comes home, shot to rag doll ribbons, she does not whimper or hesitate. This frontier wife straps on a gun and saddles up her horse. She takes the kid to a neighbors and heads to her former fiancé’s house and asks for help.
Rather than plead with the man, she heads to town to stock up on ammunition and dynamite. She is grabbed by one of the Bishop gang, the baddies who raped her and shot her husband.
Dan Frost (Edgerton) almost intervenes but stops short of shooting the Bishop gang member. Jane does that herself.
Thus begins the long middle part of the film where Dan fortifies the house against the expected marauders and he and Jane share backstories. Jane’s husband Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) has little to do apart from lay flat on his back and drink whiskey for his pain.
The plodding midway point does hurt the film somewhat. When the gang do arrive, the shootout is somewhat underwhelming. after all that preparation. Apparently the Bishops stopped to pick up a few friends to help out.
Jane Got a Gun has an ending that feels a little tacked on. Without giving too much away, it has “happy Hollywood ending” written all over it.
The film is too claustrophobic to have much in the way of panoramic visuals but the few shots which are there to show the desolation of the homestead look brilliant.
Written by no less than three people: Edgerton, Brian Duffield and Anthony Tambakis, the film could have turned into a helpless hodgepodge of floating plot lines and ramshackle scenes. It does what is says on the label, however, and delivers a western with a strong female protagonist.
Jane Got a Gun may have been influenced quite heavily by Hannie Caulder, it is a loose remake after all, but it takes itself far more seriously. One cannot cast an Oscar winning actress in a role that requires her be a helpless female in any size, shape or form. (Portman’s character does not even cry, Edgerton’s, however, does get very teary eyed.)
It is a bit puzzling that McGregor decided to hide his well known visage behind a black mustache and heavy black eyebrows. He does, however, “give good villain” although he does not appear too often in the film.
Overall, Jane Got a Gun is a 3.5 star film. It loses a bit for the claustrophobic setting and the lack of gunplay. While there is shooting, it is mostly from the other side and the good guys shoot very little in return. Also, in the final scene, there is a close up of Jane’s gun. She has just told the villainous Bishop that she has two rounds (or as she calls them, “bullets”) left. The front of the gun’s chambers show all the “bullets” to be unexpended, in other words, the pistol is fully loaded. Oops.)
Jane Got a Gun is on Netflix at the moment and certainly worth watching. Fans of westerns should enjoy it and fans of Portman may opt to suffer through an unloved genre to see her.