I was thinking…
…we often think of artists–regardless of their medium–as improving as they pursue their careers until they reach some sort of plateau. While this may be the case with some artists, it is not the case with all. Some actors’ careers ride the roller coaster both with the success of their films and, far worse, with their abilities.
The titular actress of Jane Got a Gun, Natalie Portman (Thor: The Dark World, Black Swan), has ridden that roller coaster since she first appeared on screen in 1994’s The Professional. Her debut role as Mathilde, the orphan/protege to Leon, established her as a talented young actress with the potential for a powerful performing career.
But some of her following films featured less than stellar performances from the petite Israelite. Much of her screen time in the Star Wars prequels was heavily peppered with cringe-worthy acting. Whereas some of that could be blamed on the stomach-churning scripts, the words on the page cannot be held accountable for everything.
Then came 2010’s Black Swan, a movie for which Portman was presented the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Okay. So maybe she plateaued, right?
Enter the Thor movies (in which she also played a character named Jane). As difficult as it was to believe her as an astrophysicist, her performances did nothing to aid to the suspension of disbelief. Instead, they seemed to return almost to the Star Wars level. A definite roller coaster.
But Jane Got a Gun seems to be at one of those high points on the track.
In the desert of New Mexico, the young mother, Jane, welcomes her husband (Noah Emmerich—Warrior) back to their homestead, only to find he’s near death with several bullets in his back. As she performs makeshift surgery on him, he reveals his former criminal colleagues, the Bishop Boys, are coming for him.
Taking their daughter to a neighbor some miles away, Jane goes to her ex-fiance, Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton—Black Mass, Warrior) for help.
It becomes quite clear Frost is less than willing to aid Jane, due to his feeling betrayed by her, but he reluctantly relents.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Bishop Boys, (Ewan McGregor—Mortdecai, Son of a Gun), is organizing his gang to exact revenge on Jane’s husband for his killing four of the gang’s members.
Portman is joined by not one but two of her fellow Star Wars prequel alums, Edgerton and McGregor, and both men have repeatedly proven their acting chops. While McGregor’s performance is not his best, it is far from terrible. He is, I feel, wasted in a role that could have just as easily been handled by someone of less proven ability.
Edgerton’s work, however, is as good as anything else he has ever done. In fact, Edgerton quickly steals the show and anyone who has ever felt slighted by a loved one can feel an empathetic connection to this lonely cowboy.
A Scot, an Australian and an Israeli-born American playing Missourians who now live in the Southwest means an interesting hodgepodge of accents. While McGregor sounds more cultivated, Edgerton carries a convincing drawl that is often difficult to understand entirely. Portman’s is the most western, by far, but it tends to fluctuate in intensity from scene to scene; nevertheless, it is one of her better overall performances.
She is, however, the queen bee of ugly criers.
Not so ugly were the filming locations. Actually shot in New Mexico, Jane Got a Gun feels and looks as authentic as any western ever to grace celluloid. It is particularly refreshing, especially in the digital, enticing foreign tax incentive days, to see a western, or indeed any film, that is actually shot in the area in which it is supposed to take place.
As western as the setting is, the music could have been more so. A somewhat lackluster composition by Marcello De Francisci and Lisa Gerrard, the score does have healthy moments of twanging guitar and other musical staples of the genre, but fades away into mediocrity for most of the picture and utter obscurity by the last roll of the credits.
I wonder if Ennio Morricone is aware of how he is the bar by which all other western film music is measured.
Although this is a western, it is also a love story of sorts and, as such, suffers the bane of most love stories: pacing. There are many slow, drawn out moments both laden with dialogue and not that seem to belie the mounting tension and frantic situation.
Interspersed throughout, however, and in distracting contrast to the pacing, are numerous flashback sequences that slowly sew the disparate patches of the story together into a coherent quilt.
One more minor issue: for a movie called Jane Got a Gun, it seems like somebody should have taught her how to at least hold one properly.
What about this doesn’t look awkward?
A decent vehicle for Portman, Jane Got a Gun does establish itself at the top of one of those roller coaster tracks. Unfortunately, the hill on the track is usually followed by a sharp drop-off.
Ammo Dump rating: 6 out of 10 bullets
I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter
Jane Got a Gun
Run time: 98 minutes