Amid the lawlessness, gunslingers, and bounties of the Old West, Jane Got a Gun provides a thoughtful look at the humanity behind the period’s survivalists. While the title suggests an action movie — perhaps with a femme fatale showing everyone who’s boss — the actual film is a lengthy, introspective look at the two main characters, Jane and Dan (played by Natalie Portman and Joel Edgerton), and their relationship.
The movie opens on Jane living in wild, barely settled New Mexico in 1871. When an outlaw gang injures her husband and threatens her home, Jane hides her daughter away and enlists the help of Dan, her ex-fiancée, to defend her home against the gunslingers.
After a fast-paced beginning, the story slows down considerably in order to explore the nuances between Dan and Jane. Portman gives a subtle performance (with a believable Southern accent) that hints at a complex history between the two. After the plot slows down, her performance becomes the main thing holding the audience’s interest. Dan, meanwhile, embittered over Jane’s second marriage, is less interesting as the surly love interest with a heart of gold.
The movie’s beautiful cinematography offers sweeping views of the New Mexican desert in all its dry and dusty glory. The score matches the beauty of the landscape, inspiring awe and fear at the right moments and highlighting the movie in appropriately subtle ways. The set and costumes fit the time period — there’s nothing distracting that takes away from the film’s believability. In one scene, Jane strides to the general store with the jangling piano music of a saloon in the background, and it’s a moment that adds nicely to the period piece.
The climax, when it finally comes, announces itself quickly and proceeds slowly — much like the rest of the film. Indeed, pacing is the movie’s one shortcoming. While the beginning and ending are fast-paced, the middle slows down considerably and meanders around Jane and Dan for so long that we begin to lose interest. The western setting works to the film’s advantage here and keeps it from falling flat. Those going into this movie expecting an action flick will be sorely disappointed. Jane Got a Gun, while beautiful, is slow-paced and predictable to the end.