Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Jane Got a Gun

In addition to the Weinstein Brothers shenanigans that have kept Jane Got a Gun on the shelf for two years or so, there was a Relativity banner at the front of the movie, although I don't recall seeing them credited in the titles at all, so I'm curious as to whether that was also part of the film's sporty history. That production company with Sudo ambitions seems to be reaching the end of its bankruptcy reorganization, so I can see that being a hold-up.

Even if that's the case, there seems to be little doubt that Lynn Ramsey walking away days before production started is the defining event for this movie, no matter how much has happened since then. The "trivia" part of this thing's IMDB page is a dizzying merry-go-round of recasting, people quitting in solidarity, and others coming in last-minute. At the time, I wondered why the film went ahead at all and couldn't come up with any answer other than Natalie Portman still being attached and really wanting to do it, especially since she was a producer as well as the star. I suppose it's also possible enough work had been done (and enough people were being paid regardless) that the producers figured they ought to spend a bit more money to have a movie that might sell some tickets, discs, and streams to eventually make up the difference.

As much as I tried to review just what was on screen without making any suppositions, I can't help but be really curious about how the switch off directors and subsequent recasting changed the movie. Portman and Joel Edgerton were Ramsey hires (though Edgerton for a different role), and they give pretty low-key performances, with Ram McGregor a bit more boisterous, and I wonder how much of that was the holdover carrying Ramsay's vision of the movie (presumably very naturalistic with the director working to pull something sharp from her cast) over despite O'Connor's more meat-and-paps style. You kind of see it in the general look of the movie, too - everything is built to be weathered, worn-down, and busy in the present, and I suspect Ramsey and her cinematographer might have gone for tighter, darker shots than the brightly-lit movie (with one notable exception) that got made. Even if that's not the case, it must be pretty strange to take over a wild west town built to another filmmaker's specifications.


The end, for what it's worth, feels like it must have been changed at some point, like some sort of gut-punch has been removed and an improbable reunion inserted in its stead. It makes the movie feel like it's about it always being possible to return to how things should be despite everything up until then being about how things have changed the characters irrevocably.


And for one last observation - digital is no way to see a Western, no matter who did what. Sitting in the front section for what is presumably 2K projection probably doesn't help, but seeing it that way just looked wrong.

Jane Got a Gun

* * (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

I wonder, idly, if The Weinstein Company sat on Jane Got a Gun so long in the hopes that it would become "that sort of disappointing western" rather than "that movie that self-destructed in spectacular fashion and was put back together without many of the things that made it interesting". I don't know that it becomes a great movie with Lynn Ramsey directing the original cast, but it seems like one where just a little more investment could have made a big difference.

It opens with Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) playing with her daughter at their homestead in 1871 New Mexico, just as husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) arrives. It's not a happy reunion, as he falls off his horse with three bullets in his back. Old enemies the Bishop Boys have caught up with him, and with "Ham" to injured to move, Jane drops their daughter off with a friend and loads up on weapons, recruiting gunslinger Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) to defend them. Billy Bishop (Ewan McGregor) has about a dozen men, and there's also the issue of what Jane's and Dan's history adds to the situation.

Putting these three in a house together should make things plenty tense regardless of how close the Bishop Boys are, and yet it often seems surprisingly businesslike, with the idea of these three being an uneasy alliance far more involving than what actually happens on screen. There are flashbacks enough to go around, and the occasional conversation discussing what those scenes miss, but this serves more to point out that there's tension and history between these people, and maybe explain it, but seldom to bring it into sharp relief. The best moments along those lines are probably the least articulated verbally, as Ham lies in the bed, every part of his body rapidly failing him, watching his wife's former lover take his place. It's a hellish scenario and director Gavin O'Connor makes the most of it, blurring the picture in point-of-view shots and being very careful with when Ham is in frame.

Full review on EFC.

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