Jane Got A Gun

Director: Gavin O’Connor (2016)

Since winning her best actress Oscar for ballet based drama Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman’s career has been noticeably quiet.

In this small time western with occasional epic leanings, she’s back with a bang as Jane, a pistol packing farmer.

The genre that refuses to go to boot hill is on a decent run. Not just with high profile recent Oscar winners The Revenant (2016) and The Hateful Eight (2016) but also taut tales such as Mads Mikkelson’s The Salvation (2015) and Kurt Russell’s Bone Tomahawk (2016).

Jane Got A Gun is a blend of genre motifs and contemporary hot topics, offering a tale of revenge, rape, infanticide and sex trafficking among ranches, brothels and shoot outs.

Considering its troubled production history it’s remarkable how competent and coherent the finished film is.

In May 2012, it was announced that Natalie Portman would star in the film as the title  Lynne Ramsay would direct. Michael Fassbender was reported as cast in the hero role and Joel Edgerton was cast as the villain.

Scheduling conflicts lead to Edgerton replacing Fassbender and Jude Law stepping into Edgerton’s boots. When director Lynne Ramsey was replaced by Gavin O’Connor, Law was replaced first by Bradley Cooper and then by Ewan McGregor.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji also left the production, and was replaced by Mandy Walker. And rewrites followed.

Jane is saddled with grief, a dirt poor farm and a wounded husband Ham, the underused Noah Emmerich.

Her gun is a mumbling Joel Edgerton who plays Jane’s alcoholic war hero and ex lover.

Their personal chemistry is no more lacking than any other relationship in the film.

Jane employs Dan as protection from Ewan McGregor’s pantomime villain, a notorious outlaw who has vowed to kill Ham.

As Bishop’s scurvy faced posse arrive for revenge, the dead bodies mount up alongside the spare horses.

The familiar narrative has a strong through line, even if some of the scenes fit awkwardly together.

There are some splendidly cinematic sweeping vistas and agreeable rough and rugged design.

But there’s a lack of chemistry and though the climax doesn’t fire blanks, it never quite hits the emotional targets it’s aiming for.

 

Focus

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (2015)

Using the glossy glow of its stars and dazzling colour palette, this stupid and sexist heist movie tries to distract our focus from its failings.

In a buddy movie without a buddy, there’s no intelligence, danger, tension, fun or sexual frisson. Jokes fall flat from a 1980’s throwback of a script with Will Smith‘s once assured delivery the most culpable.

With no-one to riff off he delivers an unusually tired performance from a self-satisfied script. It works like patchwork not clockwork and seems stitched together from other films, all better than this one.

Incompetent pickpocket Jess (Margot Robbie) fails to hustle super-slick conman Nicky (Smith). It’s hard to tell whether Jess is playing dumb or simply dumb.

Nicky explains that a successful con relies like a magic trick on distracting the victim’s focus. One of his cons is strikingly similar to the work of British illusionist Derren Brown.

Persuading Nicky to mentor her, Jess joins his huge crew of high-living con-men as they fleece unsuspecting tourists in New Orleans. We’re supposed to be impressed by their flash tricks as they callously steal wallets, cameras, phones and watches from ordinary people.

Jess and Nicky share an over-abundance of banter but no chemistry and can’t keep their hands off each other.

There’s an interlude at an American football game which has no relevance to the rest of the story. It does at least have an entertaining performance from BD Wong as the wealthy gambler Liyuan.

Characters such as Nicky’s right hand man Horst (Brennan Brown) are written in and out on a whim and act without comprehensible motivation.

After making a huge stash of cash, Nicky abruptly terminates their relationship for no explained reason and abandons her at the airport, albeit with a considerable financial advantage.

Three years later in Argentina, Nicky is hired by racing car team boss Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) to indulge in a little corporate skulduggery.

In the close knit world of professional racing Nicky pretends to be a disgruntled engineer defecting with technical secrets to the opposition, ran by boorish Australian McEwen (Robert Taylor).

However when Jess turns up as Garriga’s girlfriend Nicky must confront his feelings for her, threatening the big con.

We’re given no reason to like the lead characters other than they’re insanely glamorous. He has a vaguely troubled personal history and she’s avoided becoming a prostitute. Far from being a romance the most important relationship is between Nicky and his father.

Nicky is always presented as powerful; wearing shades and suits while leaning out of soft-top cars. Jess suffers the camera leering over her as she parades in bikini and heels.

The coarse and laugh-free dialogue has Nicky spouting science says women are easily persuaded by soft words and trinkets. He stalks, seduces and exploits Jess before reducing her to being a nurse with a meal ticket.

Jess is possibly the only female with a speaking role.

It ends with an astonishingly predictable sting in the tail stolen from a far superior couple of con-men.

★☆☆☆☆