Natalie Portman in a western? (I mean, isn't she the girl who won an Oscar for "Black Swan" and played Queen Amidala in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy?) What about Joel Edgerton (from "The Warrior", "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "The Gift")? Or Ewan McGregor, who was also in "Star Wars" Episodes 1-3 as well as unusual movies like "Moulin Rouge!", "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"? Then there's Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, who famously played Persian King Xerxes in the "300" movies. I'd answer all those objections with another question: Why not? After all, stretching is important for actors. When they play against type, we often get surprisingly enjoyable performances from our favorite thespians – and these gutsy actors sometimes find entirely new niches for themselves.
Actors like Robert De Niro and Leslie Nielsen, known mainly for "tough guy" roles, each decided to start doing some comedy. That gave us the "Meet the Parents" and "Analyze This" movies (from De Niro) and "Airplane!" and the "Naked Gun" movies (from Nielsen). And does anyone remember when Bruce Willis was mostly doing romantic comedy? "Bruce Willis in an action movie?!?" people said in 1988 – until they saw "Die Hard". There you go. Now, let us consider the very reasonable possibility that Portman, Edgerton, McGregor, Santoro, et al, can bring us an entertaining western in "Jane Got a Gun" (R, 1:38).
Portman plays Jane Hammond, a wife and mother living in a small house in Middle-of-nowhere, New Mexico in 1871, six years after the Civil War ended. When her husband, Bill (Emmerich), shows up at home with five bullets in his back, Jane springs into action. The Bishop Boys gang, led by John Bishop (McGregor), and including violent men with names like Fitchum (Santoro), have an old grudge against Bill. He may have gotten away for the moment, but they intend to find him and finish him off. After patching up her husband as well as she could, Jane rides to the house of Dan Frost (Edgerton), trying to enlist his help in defending her home and her family. Dan turns her down cold, but soon reconsiders.
Dan and Jane had been engaged before the war. Dan went off to join the Union Army
and wasn't heard from for three years. By the time he and Jane were reunited, Jane had married Bill and had his baby. There's no love lost between Dan and Bill, but Dan can't bear the thought of leaving Jane to the mercy of the Bishop Boys, a decidedly unmerciful group. As the big confrontation with John Bishop and company draws ever closer, flashbacks progressively tell us more about the past interactions among these four characters – including some well-kept secrets that, once revealed, will change everything.
"Jane Got a Gun" is a very well-told, very human story. Its setting of the Old West may suggest plenty of gun fights and action, but what we get is much more. There are a number of exciting scenes that are very well staged and executed, but the script is even more appealing than the film's action sequences. The story is interesting and told very effectively, with some nicely quotable dialog along the way. The interactions between the characters make for a complicated and intriguing dynamic, helped along by great performances from the talented and experienced cast. Add to the mix terrific cinematography and a great song called "Perdition", which plays as the credits roll, and you have several wonderful cinematic elements and an outstanding cast which come together to make a very entertaining motion picture. "A"
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