New Mexico, 1871. A posse led by ruthless outlaw John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) hunts for a wounded gunslinger Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich). Faced with these implacable foes, his wife (Natalie Portman) must turns to an old flame for help.
Considering Jane Got A Gun's turbulent back story, you might expect it to be a ruinous mess, each catastrophic frame drowned out by the chirrup of casting agents’ cell phones and the Xanax-popping of anxious studio bean counters. Its director, Lynne Ramsay, walked off its Santa Fe set before the first take, while its cast rotated like the cylinder on a gunslinger’s iron. This Western seemed, for want of a better phrase, to have gone west.
Portman and Egerton team up to tackle insurmountable odds you suspect will prove surprisingly surmountable.
Instead, the end product is a dusty revenger which, while by no means a disaster, is about as thrilling as a bowl of cold oats. Ramsay’s replacement, Gavin O’Connor, shows a keen eye for the landscapes of the Old West but fails to match the urgency of his breakthrough Warrior, or freshen up the plentiful Western archetypes on display. There’s fiendish villains – Ewan McGregor’s deliriously hammy gunman is the exact midway point between Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West and Dick Dastardly in The Wacky Races – and the upstanding homesteader, Natalie Portman's flinty Jane Hammond, that they're coming for.
But any idea that this might turn out to be a feminist slant on the gunslinger yarn - Janey Guitar, perhaps - is swiftly dispelled when she pops over the hill and asks her ex, grizzled former soldier Dan Frost (Joel Egerton), for a hand. The pair team up to tackle insurmountable odds you suspect will prove surprisingly surmountable in the end. The sexual tension hardly crackles between the two of them, despite enough pistol pointing to make Freud’s head explode.
There are some enjoyably loopy third-act pyrotechnics (look out for a Blue Peter–style minefield improvised from old whisky bottles and rusty nails) and sturdy performances from the leads, but the pacing stays sluggish right up to its final reckoning. Not so much The Magnificent Seven, more The Dour Duo.
If it packed in half as much drama as its shoot managed, this would be a Western to remember. Sadly, this sluggish fable arrives half-cocked.