Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor star in this under-rated period drama from the director of “Miracle” and “The Way Back.”
Editor's Note: Throughout March and April, we’re celebrating Great Westerns of the 21st Century — noteworthy movies and TV series with special appeal to C&I readers that have premiered since 2001. Check the Entertainment tab Monday through Friday to see a different recommendation by C&I senior writer Joe Leydon. And be on the lookout for our upcoming May/June 2020 print edition, which prominently features the legendary star who looms large in two of this century’s very best westerns.
When Jane Got a Gun hit theaters back in early 2016, it was treated less than kindly by many critics who seemed more interested in dwelling on the film’s troubled production history than fairly judging its considerable merits as a new-fangled old-fashioned sagebrush saga. Indeed, Michael Rechtshaffen of The Los Angeles Times was among the few to give it its due: “As stripped-down, revisionist Westerns go, Jane Got a Gun may not have reinvented the wagon wheel, but it rolls out as a sturdy, well-crafted genre piece despite its rocky road to the screen.”
As I noted in my own review for Variety: “Natalie Portman is persuasive and compelling in the lead role of Jane Hammond, a slightly built but formidably resourceful pioneer woman who’s greatly upset when John (Noah Emmerich), her husband, returns one day to their New Mexico Territory farm with several bullets in his innards. Mind you, John’s ambush is not a complete surprise to Jane, since he is an outlaw with a price on his head, and both of them have long been hunted by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), a grandiloquent villain with an old score to settle with the couple. But with her husband temporarily indisposed while he recovers from his wounds, Jane realizes she must even the odds as she prepares for the worst.
“And so, after placing her young daughter out of harm’s way, Jane rides over to the tumbledown home of Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton)), a hard-drinking gunslinger with whom she shared a relationship — and more, it’s gradually revealed — years earlier. At first, Dan rejects Jane’s plea for help with a surly display of alcohol-fueled resentment. But when push comes to shove, well, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do — especially when it looks like a woman will dang well try to do it alone if he doesn’t.”
The only thing I’d add to that is: McGregor is very, very good as a very, very bad man. So good, in fact, that when he inevitably gets what’s coming to him, you may immediately want to hit pause and rewind multiple times, so you can savor his uncommonly satisfying final scene.
Jane Got a Gun — directed by Gavin O’Connor (Miracle, The Way Back) — currently is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.