Film Review: Jane Got a Gun
Directed by Gavin O’Connor, Jane Got a Gun is a highly stylistic western which draws on elements of the classic western interwoven with themes of good vs evil, the restoration of the family unit, morality, retribution, justice and the empowering of the feminine in a genre stereotypically saturated by the masculine.
Empowered by the sight of a strong onscreen female, we witness Jane Hammond (Natalie Portman) as a truly capable character who carries the film’s plot, cleverly balancing the need to survive in a harsh male-dominated climate with the nurturing characteristics of a mother and wife. It’s a refreshing look at the western genre with Jane teaming up with her ex-lover Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) to save her outlaw husband, Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) from John Bishop’s (Ewan McGregor) gang set on a mission to kill him.
The film opens with a shot which mirrors the well-known opening scene of the 1956 film The Searchers. A black silhouetted shot of a pioneer woman standing at the doorway of her house overlooking the harsh desert is replicated as a tribute to the iconic western. In both films, the characters Martha and Jane await the arrival of their loved ones as they step outside onto their porch. What differs from the two films however, is the shift in tone conveyed when Jane (Portman) notices her husband Bill ‘Ham’ Hammond (Emmerich) arriving on horseback injured by a shooting.
A beautifully composed silhouette cast by sunset hues showcases Jane (Portman) riding horseback through the harsh desert environment to the refuge of her ex-lover Dan’s (Edgerton) abode. Paired with the almost rhythmical sound of horse hooves beating the hard dusty ground and the dramatically composed soundtrack there is an intensity to the story whose pace and tone foreshadows the battle between good and evil that is to come.
We witness Jane’s (Portman) resourcefulness as she quickly nurses her husband Hammond to health seeking to remove the bullets from his side in an attempt to rescue him from the clutches of death.
Omens of death and misfortune swarm the screen with a sequence of black birds encircling the skies, a shot of broken glass, followed the confrontation between good and evil in the form of a shootout element as seen in many classic westerns.
The social worth of the female, as noted in scenes which feature discussions between men in Jane Got a Gun are typical of the attitudes shared by those living in western period and to some extent, modern society, ‘she’s not your property. The money that she’s worth…’. They regarding Jane’s value as a woman not as a person but as mere property, a value placed by men who traditionally dominate the screen.
Although there are a vast number of male characters portrayed in the film, Portman’s character presents us with a resilience that shows the strength of the female character despite traditional stereotyped viewpoints of the female as weak, submissive, and obedient. There is a loyalty and strength that Jane (Portman) shows that is admirable and even inspiring.
Jane Got a Gun conveys to us the idea that the female is just as capable as the male. As the story progresses Jane begins to gain control, protecting her family and herself out of necessity. There is a scene in the film in which she is subjected to the abuse of a man but Jane quickly gains the upper hand with the aid of a gun.
The use of guns in film as a symbol of power or dominance runs throughout as viewers are presented with ideas of death and morality. Throughout most of the film the struggle for power is ongoing. A carefully composed sequence of shots portrays to us the power struggle between two conflicting characters or more generally interpreted as the battle between good and evil. As the camera closes in from a wide to a closeup the intensity of the character’s faces are drawn out highlighting the tension of the scene as the camera switches between a combination of high and low angles in an interplay of perspective. Embedded underneath also is a suspenseful soundtrack which plays as the camera cuts back and forth between the two characters slowly intensifying from a wide shot to an extreme closeup to highlight the tension in the scene.
The notable silence before the onslaught of gunfire triggered by John Bishop’s (McGregor) demand of Jane’s husband outlaw Bill Hammond’s (Emmerich) head is noted as an epic battle ensues. A mixture of dramatically triumphant and somewhat abrasive orchestral noise engulfs the senses as we are treated to a visual onslaught of explosions, fire, scorching embers.
Perhaps visual representation of the harsh reality needed for female characters to survive in the western genre, Jane’s character is refined through her experience with a sense of purpose that builds her character suggesting that one’s self worth is created by one’s actions. Interestingly, in a conversation between Dan (Edgerton) and Jane (Portman) in which he says the following, ‘when man loses his purpose, that’s when a man dies’.
That said, in Jane Got a Gun it is not man whose purpose is carried through but woman’s and in particular Jane’s. Through the strength of Jane’s character shown throughout the film and her utter willingness to save her outlaw husband Bill Hammond (Emmerich), O’Connor’s film seems to portray the idea that when a woman has purpose, that’s when a man lives.
Catch the film at the “Essential Independents: American Cinema, Now” festival, taking place in the following cities:
Tuesday 17 May to Wednesday 1 June – Sydney
Wednesday 18 May to Wednesday 1 June – Melbourne
Thursday 19 May to Wednesday 1 June – Brisbane and Canberra
Thursday 26 May to Wednesday 8 June – Adelaide
See the full programme and find out more here: http://www.essentialindependents.com/
Review by Addy Fong.