Jane Got a Gun (2016): Troubled Hannie Caulder Remake (Review)

Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton

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.

He refuses.

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.

Directed by Gavin O’Connor, who stepped in to replace Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (who had a falling out with producers after having a falling out with Michael Fassbender)  does a good job.

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.

The Gift (2015): Unsatisfying Karma (Review)

Jason Bateman in The Gift

Aussie performer Joel Edgerton  wrote and directed this mystery/thriller and considering that this is his first feature length film behind the lens, and it front of it, The Gift does very well indeed. It is, unfortunately, a karmic film that ends on a rather unsatisfactory note. When all is said and done, we the audience really want something more. An end that befits this bullying and manipulative douche on two legs.

There is a twist in this tale about bullying and the film’s overall message is that a leopard cannot and will not change its spots.  Starring Jason Bateman, Brit actress Rebecca Hall, Edgerton and Fargo star Allison Tolman The Gift entertains but loses steam midway through once we figure out what is really going on. 

Simon and Robyn are a young and successful couple who have put recent tragedy behind them and moved to Los Angeles. Simon (Bateman)  has a new job and Robyn (Hall) works from home.

The couple buy a lovely clifftop house and as they buy furniture and essentials for their new palace, they bump into Gordon (Edgerton). “Gordo” remembers Simon from high school and he offers up his phone number. Simon is uncomfortable as he cannot really remember the other man, he says.

Gordon begins insinuating himself into Rebecca and Simon’s life, giving them  gifts and stopping by to visit with Rebecca. Things soon begin to go sour and Simon, despite coming across as a nice guy, reveals a side that is a tad unpleasant.

A lot of mystery and suspense is built up by the audience, as well as Simon and Rebecca, wondering just what Gordo is up to.  Other questions arise as it appears that Simon knows a lot more about Gordon than he admits.

In many ways “The Gift” feels an awful lot like the anatomy of a bully.  For anyone ever bullied in school, the film’s message that bullies never change, may be a bit daunting. There, however,  is a small silver lining to this metaphorical cloud.  While they may not change bullies do not, apparently, get any smarter either.

At first the mystery is engaging but as Rebecca begins to do a little digging,  things begin to slow down . It is here that the film begins to reach that unsatisfactory stage. The final act leaves one man “broken” and another satisfied with his actions. Sadly the end  feels a bit of an anti-climax.

Like horror films that hesitate to reveal what is behind that door, the ending of The Gift does something similar.  The punishment meted out is pretty devastating but ultimately one wishes for so much more. Ergo the end is an unsatisfactory bit of karmic justice that while  devastating could have been so much worse.

Bateman, Hall and Edgerton do well with their respective performances.  The director does a capable job in front of and behind the camera.  Gordo comes across as a mix of “kicked mongrel” and  obsequious  stalker.

The many gifts he bestows on the couple make us uncomfortable.  If there is any complaint about the film, it would be that the plot is spelled out too well. We learn, as Rebecca goes snooping around, that things are not what they appear at all.

These reveals, despite being spaced out, lead us to the conclusion well ahead of time. Regardless of this, The Gift is an entertaining film.

This is a solid 4 star film. It loses a full star due to its signposting being far too evident. The Gift is streaming on Hulu at the moment. Stop by and watch this one, it may be a tad unsatisfactory in the karma stakes but it is entertaining enough to pass muster overall.

Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott Epic Moses (Review and Trailer)

Exodus: Gods and Kings Ridley Scott Epic Moses (Review and Trailer)

Out of the two religious themed films released this year, as in epic retelling of bible stories versus the feel good films also hitting theatres in 2014, Ridley Scott, with his epic tale of Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings, is to be congratulated for having the moxie, or belief in his subject matter, to allow his biblical vision to actually mention the “big guy” or God. The film, which the English director dedicated to his late brother Tony, feels almost like a homage to David Lean, another English director, sort of a Lawrence of Arabia meets Moses of Canaan, if you will.