Black List scripts aren’t written by Communists nowadays; they are famously unmade films that studios just can’t decide whether or not to shoot. Jane Got a Gun was one of the most infamous Black-Listers, languishing for three years winning and losing personnel along the way: Michael Fassbender and Jude Law were once poised to help Jane load up but quit. Even after it was made, it took two more years for a studio to release it. You can probably guess why watching it, but let’s spell out the meh. In a world where Westerns need to be pretty weird to attract moviegoers, Jane is too plain.
The film stars Natalie Portman decked out in a stylish Tombstone duster as a lonely New Mexico farm woman kneading dough in the cabin ’til her shot-up husband (Noah Emmerich) flops on the porch warning that the Bishop Boys are coming. That sends Portman out to hunt up Joel Edgerton, who’s not only her wounded ex-paramour but in real life also worked on the script. Battle lines are drawn, too much backstory is supplied, and the bad men come blasting out of the coyote-haunted night.
You’ve seen far worse Westerns than this one, I guarantee. But the promise inherent in the title is betrayed by Jane running off to fetch the old boyfriend. (Feminist-revision Western this ain’t.) Edgerton and Emmerich are fine in the movie, but Ewan McGregor is thrown to the prairie dogs. The film alludes to former Western glories by showing Jane in a shot stolen from The Searchers, and it seeks to reference Shane with the farmhouse love triangle. But in the end it just seems scared of its own blue shadows on the trail. Somewhere between this movie’s timidity and The Hateful Eight’s pointless bravado, there is likely a good cowboy movie waiting to be made. I don’t think it’s waiting on the Black List, though.