Natalie Portman's new movie Jane Got A Gun is not quite empowering

Natalie Portman takes charge as Jane, a woman who has to protect her family against an aggressor from their past.
Natalie Portman takes charge as Jane, a woman who has to protect her family against an aggressor from their past.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION



98 minutes/opens tomorrow/2/5 stars

The story: Jane (Natalie Portman) has made a quiet life for herself with her husband Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich) and young daughter. When John Bishop (Ewan McGregor), an unscrupulous man from their past, is on the verge of tracking them down, she picks up a gun to defend her home. She also turns to her former lover Dan Frost (Joel Edgerton) for help.

It is hard to know what kind of audience this film was made for.

Those expecting a standard Western with shootouts will have to put up with long stretches of talk about relationships. And those hankering for a relationship drama would not think of looking here in the first place.

The project's appeal to star and producer Portman seems clear enough, though. The Best Actress Oscar winner for the psychological thriller Black Swan (2010) gets to portray an empowered woman in a traditionally male-dominated genre. This is essentially summed up in the title as Jane steps up to the plate after her husband is badly injured.

That message is, unfortunately, undercut by the fact that she ultimately has to turn to another man for help, her former sweetheart no less, and that opens the door to flashbacks of them acting all lovey-dovey.

The reason why Bishop is after her is eventually revealed as well.

Mostly, Portman is grim, steely and oh-so-serious as Jane, while McGregor, unrecognisable in a moustache, seems to be having some fun as the utterly villainous Bishop.

Edgerton comes off best here as he shows that he has the range to go from creepy and stalker-like on The Gift (2015) to romantic leading man/action hero here.

The payoff for sitting through all the talky bits is an action-heavy finale in which Jane and company barricade themselves inside her home and lay booby traps around it, kind of like a more violent take on the comic premise of Home Alone (1990).

There is a happy ending and even a ride into the sunset, but it feels like the film-makers have shot themselves in the foot with such an improbable conclusion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Jane's got a gun and that's about it'. Print Edition | Subscribe