1871, way out West, and Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) lives with her daughter in a small cottage on the frontier, her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) being away at the moment. But one day, she notices him riding up slowly on his horse and is ready to greet him when he falls to the ground in a heap: he has been riddled with bullets, but is still alive, so she drags him indoors and onto the bed to tend to his wounds and pull out the lead. When she asks him what happened, one name tells her all she needs to know: John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), who is the local villain. They thought they were rid of him by now, but he is determined to avenge himself on them, and now he is on their trail with his henchmen...
Some films are difficult to discuss without addressing the troubles behind the scenes, and Jane Got a Gun was one of those. It was a Western that star Portman decided to produce as a vehicle for herself, a loose remake of the Raquel Welch movie Hannie Caulder that had been part of the wave of Westerns for grown-ups back in the nineteen-seventies which effectively alienated the family audiences for whom they had been a staple for decades. It was the reason that most examples of this genre arriving during the eighties and after were geared for more mature audiences, and also why they had difficulty interesting the general moviegoer as many of them were aimed towards a niche market.
By hiring cult Scottish director Lynne Ramsay to helm this, it would seem the niche rather than the populist target was what they were aiming to hit, but apparently that was not the case and certain producers genuinely believed they had a potential blockbuster on their hands, reports indicating that Ramsay was at loggerheads with those who wanted to steer her in that direction. Thus, on the first day of shooting, she simply never showed up, making headlines across the globe for all the wrong reasons, compounded by the way that they couldn't hold onto their actors, with Joel Edgerton persuaded to stay on as the romantic lead for Portman by allowing him to pen a draft of the screenplay.
Now, that screenplay by Brian Duffield had been on the Black List, a collection of scripts that were unproduced yet judged to be among the finest of their art, which was why it was baffling that when they were made, the powers that be would have them rewritten, and watching this you might well wonder why everything was so characterless then recall that the personality may well have been lost in all that retooling. By the time the film was released, it was a resounding flop, not appealing to the general audience nor the arthouse lot who would have flocked to watch a Ramsay Western out of curiosity to see what she would have achieved with an actual genre flick. Would it gather that cult of fans willing to champion it as an unsung creative success? Debatable, but if that's what they were claiming they were on shaky foundations.
Director Gavin O'Connor had presumably been asked to take the reins by Edgerton after they had worked together so well on a genuine cult movie, the MMA melodrama Warrior, but whether he was simply onboard with too little notice or whether he had no feel for Westerns was unclear. What was clear was that he relied on a sepia tint to the photography to evoke a bygone era and focused on closeups of his cast's faces far too heavily, so with barely any variety in the visuals it became a monotonous film to watch. Edgerton played Jane's old flame who she brings in to save her skin, and though she proved capable with the gun of the title, this brought up another issue: aside from Portman, there was not one single woman in this who had a significant role. Now, she was an Oscar-winning actress who could carry a film as we had seen, but Jane came across as not much of an agent of her own destiny when she was buffeted along by all these men, goodies and baddies alike, who more or less forced her to bend to their will. With a confusing flashback structure not helping either, all this proved was that you never know how behind the scenes issues can affect the outcome of a promising work. Music by Marcello De Francisci and Lisa Gerrard.