Shouldn’t that be Jane’s Got A Gun? Never mind. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor meet again, minus C3PO and a wining little Anakin Skywalker, in a Western tale about struggling people trying to get by in 1871 New Mexico.
Jane Hammond (Portman) hasn’t had the best life. In flashbacks that pepper the movie, we learn that she started out falling in love with a gunslinger named Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton). But Dan went off to war with the promise of returning for marriage and an idyllic life in California. But bad things happen to good people and Jane never hears from Dan after years and presumes he’s dead. She then hooks up with a henchman to a real nasty bad guy called John Bishop (McGregor), and finds love again. The henchman, Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich), leaves his criminal past behind him and rescues Jane from a life of prostitution to be her husband and have a baby. But! Dan returns to find out she’s married and turns to the bottle for comfort.
In real time, Bill is in trouble… again. Besides being wanted, shot up, and confined to a bed, Bishop wants him dead and forms his “Bishop Boys” gang to hunt him down. Jane has no choice but to call on her old fiancé, Dan, to help her defend her invalid husband and their home from who-knows-how-many bad guys. Naturally, he declines, but after a brief scuffle in town that nearly kills her, Dan agrees.
Dan and Jane set about booby-trapping the front yard while having conversations about the lives (shoulda-coulda-woulda) they might have had. Finally, Bishop and his gang show up and the shoot-out begins with Jane and Dan trying to fend a dozen bad guys who just want Bill, who’s dying anyway. There’s also a little matter of revenge that Jane has in mind for Bishop for something else. Padme and Obi-Wan… sorry, I mean, Jane and Bishop soon square off for a tense conclusion that ties up loose ends.
With a fine screenplay by Brian Duffield, Anthony Tambakis, and star Joel Edgerton, this isn’t your typical bang-bang, fast paced, shoot ’em up Western like Silverado or The Quick and the Dead. This is more of a slow character study of damaged people and their ability to maintain any semblance of life while all around them is chaos. It could have been deadly dull and boring, but the script has enough strength in the emotional scenes and engaging moments that you are drawn into the lives of the principles. This, plus Gavin O’Conner’s wonderful direction (he’s done mostly TV stuff) to this little indie-looking film that feels old school with a TV-movie charm to it, which is O’Connor’s forte.
Portman and Edgerton support each other with distant chemistry, given their backstory in the movie, and that works to their advantage. Portman never turns into a Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill) killing machine and McGregor is perfectly sinister with a nice American accent. What’s interesting here is the film’s alleged cursed production: since 2012’s greenlit date, almost every cast member was replaced! Jude Law, Michael Fassbender, and Bradley Cooper (to name a few) were all signed at one time, then left. This, plus other crew members came and went like a revolving door. Oh, and did I mention a studio filed bankruptcy? Jeepers! It’s a miracle this movie even got made!
A young pioneer women in the Old West getting help from another to seek revenge isn’t something new, just ask curvaceous Raquel Welch. In the movie that inspired Tarantino to make Kill Bill, this British made spaghetti-western (with heavy Sam Peckinpah overtones) is a very simple revenge story… with lotsa red paint for blood!
After a botched bank robbery, we meet the three Clement brothers: worry-wart Frank (Jack Elam), trigger-happy idiot Rufus (Strother Martin), and ring leader Emmett who yells all his lines (Ernest Borgnine). They hide out from a Mexican posse at the nearby Caulder ranch wherethey kill the husband and then gang-rape Hannie (Welch) before taking off on stolen horses. But Hannie, half-naked and seething mad, asks for help from a wandering bounty hunter who just happens to be passing by. Her plan? Revenge!!
Lethal and well-known Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) reluctantly strikes up a deal with Hannie to get even with the Clements, but only after he teaches her the discipline of the gun. He clothes her and then takes her down to an isolated Mexican beach to meet Bailey (Christopher Lee), a master gunsmith who’ll make her a personalized gun. Cue the teaching montage. Meanwhile, the dim-witted Clements try to rob another bank, but blow the money up instead. Yeah, these guys ain’t the sharpest tools in the shed.
Anyway, after a few weeks of training, Hannie goes to a town where, quite coincidentally, the Clements pop-up and kill Price. It’s then left up to Hannie to finish the job she came there to do. She murders the three thugs that killed her husband and Price, not to mention the other thing. She executes them one by one, finishing off the last one with a little help from a mysterious man (guardian angel?) in black (Stephen Boyd)
Although the screenplay was written by a “Z.X. Jones” (an obvious fake name), it was really the handiwork of director Burt Kennedy, who did a marvelous job of imitating the style and camerawork of master western director Sam Peckinpah, right down to the overt gun violence, the slo-mo deaths, the bright red paint-for-blood, and sweeping pans of the Spanish landscapes where it was shot. Curiously, Strother Martin and Ernest Borgnine were both in The Wild Bunch, Peckinpah’s classic violent western.
Although the movie scored high in the UK, it only did so-so here as the screenplay was mediocre, the plot was dull, and the acting way too melodramatic. The only redeeming quality was Welch’s fabulous body, which was shown off as much as a PG movie would allow. A great cast, including Christopher Lee, all doing their best with a hum-drum script.