Combustible Celluloid
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With: Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor, Rodrigo Santoro, Noah Emmerich, Boyd Holbrook, Alex Manette, Todd Stashwick, James Burnett, Sam Quinn
Written by: Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, Joel Edgerton, based on a story by Brian Duffield
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
MPAA Rating: R for violence and some language
Running Time: 98
Date: 01/29/2016

Jane Got a Gun (2016)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Her Trigger

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This Western doesn't seem to have anything terribly wrong with it. It has a terrific cast, the story and the acting are fine, and the scenery is appealing, but somehow it just never sparks to life. Another problem is that the strange title, Jane Got a Gun, which recalls an Aerosmith song, suggests something rather raucous, or even funny; it might even suggest a movie about the outlaw Calamity Jane. But instead it's a very serious, rather low-key drama with no special flourishes and nothing out of the ordinary.

In the New Mexico territory in 1871 Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) is in the kitchen when her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) arrives home, shot up by the evil Bishop Boys gang, who have been on their trail for years. Readying for an attack, Jane goes to the only person she knows who can help, gunslinger Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton). Unfortunately, Dan isn't too eager to help, thanks to a painful history he shares with Jane, though he eventually agrees. As they prepare to face the vicious Bishop Gang leader (Ewan McGregor), they begin to share their individual stories, adding up to something closer to the truth. Only one mystery remains: what happened to the child Jane had after Dan left for the war?

The direction by Gavin O'Connor (Miracle, Pride and Glory, Warrior) hints at a sense of duty, an attempt to honor the good and decent people of the old West. This approach may work with a sports movie, but a Western requires another level. The Old West setting involves a struggle between order and chaos, the old and the new. This movie doesn't seem to go beyond its surface story. Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton (who co-wrote the screenplay), are both appealing, however.

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