Before I reached the Age of Reason last June, I was an unapologetic follower of the Feminist Frequency. At the time, I still did not take games or movies seriously, but I must confess their chief mouthpiece Anita Sarkeesian had some valid points in regards to narrative. I agree that the damsel in distress is a played out and dated story that could use a little reimagining. And then their anti-capitalist, professional victimhood, racist, man-hating, and petty delusional rhetoric came to the forefront. I finally realized Sarkeesian and her cohorts are unequivocally WRONG and their idea of feminism is the direct opposite of real equality. Feminist Frequency does about as much good for women as an episode of Charmed, all of them.
In a spat of nostalgia, I revisited their infamous YouTube channel and found a review of The Force Awakens. As per her usual shtick, Sarkeesian addressed the film’s inclusion of female characters and people of color without once referring to how they are as characters. Her analysis was motivated by pure ignorant vanity, absent any grain of thoughtful consideration, a common thread in her work and those of similar disposition. All that matters to these people are if you are a woman, colored, nonwhite, and not a capitalist.
Before I knew Jane Got a Gun (JGG) was even out this weekend, I read a handful of reviews that seemed unable to talk about it without calling it a “feminist film.” It feels like just because it stars a female lead, the movie is somehow feminist. That is like saying gay male porn is pro-MRA because it is wall-to-wall with dick, Hurt Locker Army propaganda, or Evangelion Christian for its use of religious imagery. Has the art of analysis truly devolved to that point? My lesbian friend likes stories about women and she did not want to see it because the title sounded stupid. I admit the reviews I saw also talked about the quality of the film, but calling something by what it simply appears to be is not how to judge anything in an intellectual manner. It is a blatant tactic readily employed by Sarkeesian and friends and because I am not ignorant, I will judge the movie as it is. Was JGG a good western or were the reviews right to be narrow-minded?
After her husband angers the local gang, Jane, played by Natalie Portman, enlists the help of her ex-lover Dan, played by Joel Edgerton, to defend her property from the coming retribution.
Simple enough, right? Too bad the entire film is a botched job of epic proportions. I am not exaggerating; everything is wrong in JGG. The acting, writing, story, and camera work are the absolute antithesis of a good movie. Instead, it is the perfect January Movie, not good or good bad; just plain damn bad. I have been waiting with bated breath for the real garbage and it was not until the end of the month that it was set loose.
Making a western throwback should be the easiest thing in the world. You have people living on the edge of civilization, outlaws, and cowboys in stories about property disputes, grazing rights, revenge, and folks just trying to get by. The entire genre is filled to brim with narratives that have been done over and over because that was the West. An entire generation grew up with this stuff. John Wayne would not have existed without the western! But those behind JGG have never seen one in their life.
The story is an easy revenge tale about a character under attack by people who wronged her. Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact is basically the same movie, also with a significant female role. Jane’s whole reason for getting involved, however, is passive because she was not seeking revenge. The only reason there was trouble in the first place is because of her husband. She decides to take a stand and do what is right, but if she is not involved in the larger conflict, why make her the focus? After the event that would prompt revenge, she moves on like a normal person. It should have been she was the outlaw in question and her need for revenge gets her husband into trouble, making her an active character. Even to the wrongdoers she is not a big deal. Their goal is the husband. Going back to Sudden Impact, Jennifer hunted down and killed her rapists because they raped her.
JGG is a great example of how not to shoot a movie. As far as I could tell, every shot was of individual actors in a given scene with many close-ups and coverage on their faces. There is no sense of spectacle or artful composition. It is just people talking or doing mundane tasks, sapping the energy that would have made the film bearable. There is a sequence involving some explosions and the director felt it was a good idea to keep the camera focused on the interior while the explosions happened on the outside and obscured. There are also no shots that give a clear picture of the environments. Because the focus is on people, it is hard to get an idea of what everything looks like. As a result, the setting of New Mexico looks like some dirt piles, a couple cabins, and half of an Old West town set. Is it me or did George Lucas direct this?
Edgerton is one of three writers, of which he has experience with The Rover and The Gift. I get the feeling he wrote a better story, which was then tampered by the other two who do not know how cinema works. In movies you can tell what is going on by simply watching. Emotion, story, symbolism, and conflict can be conveyed on a visual basis without the need for audible explanation. This should not be a problem for screenwriters. I understood that even before I went to school to learn how to write film. Apparently, the people involved with JGG forgot this important axiom. As a result, there are long stretches of dialog repeating things we already figured out from the visuals in a scene before. It is not like we are too dumb to assume what happened to warrant an explanation. Worst yet was a part when Jane explained to Dan her tragic story, while it plays out in a flashback. Said information was already conveyed throughout the film beforehand, compounding the amount of droning dialog that drags the runtime of 98 minutes.
A movie with a lot of talking would not be so bad if well written and acted. Since JGG’s script is poor, it was up to the actors to salvage what they could before they utterly failed. Apart from Edgerton, nobody bothered to try and fix the damage. Ewan McGregor as the villain Colin did not care in the slightest. He did not try to be menacing or crazy like an archetypical bad guy. I get the feeling he had to pay off a television and decided to phone his performance for quick cash.
And then there was Portman… Holy shit… I expected bad, but I could not believe what I was watching and hearing. She has one tone and it is mono throughout the whole thing in every situation she is in. There are exactly two scenes where she raises her voice and the second was the worst hysterical, emotional breakdown in the history of acting. What was supposed to be a really sad moment made me cringe and laugh out loud. Any more detail would border on insult and I would rather not make fun of Portman for being a terrible actress.
I would say skip Jane Got a Gun, but its promotion has been less than sparse and it did not receive an early screening on Thursday. I did not know it was even out until 12 hours ago. If you knew and have even a passing interest, stay far away if you like good movies. For better examples of westerns about revenge I highly recommend, True Grit (2010), Django Unchained, Hateful 8, The Revenant, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Furthermore, if you want something that has real feminist themes, watch the new Battlestar Galactica, Xena, Buffy, and Haywire.