The Western has been reinventing itself of late, with The Salvation, Slow West and Bone Tomahawk all playing with the usual ‘cowboys and Indians’ scenario. Now comes Jane (Natalie Portman), giving a female perspective on the Old West.
She lives with her husband Bill (Noah Emmerich) and their young daughter in an extremely remote homestead, the reason for which becomes clear when Bill rides home one day badly wounded. He’s been in a dogfight with the notorious Bishop Boys gang led by John Bishop (Ewan McGregor with impressive moustache) and the two have history because Bill ‘stole’ Jane from the gang as they were about to force her into a life of prostitution.
Jane knows perfectly well that now the gang has a sniff of her and Bill’s whereabouts they will hunt them down relentlessly and with Bill incapacitated Jane has to turn to the one person who may be able to keep them both alive – her ex-fiance, battle-hardened soldier Dan (Joel Edgerton).
Through a series of flashbacks (some more intrusive than others) we learn Jane and Dan’s back story and the reason he is so reluctant to become involved, but realising just how desperate the situation is he agrees to help Jane make the homestead into a fortress with impressive defences.
What then ensues is the obligatory gun battle where everyone goes in with all rifles blazing. It is at this point in the story where a totally unnecessary twist to the plot is revealed, probably to make it more palatable to female members of the audience as it points to a happy ending. Unfortunately, what it actually does is undermine the authenticity of what has gone before. This insistence on having a good outcome runs against the gritty bleakness and the sense of foreboding of what has gone before.
While the cinematography is stunning and the performances from Portman and Emmerich compelling, McGregor’s snake-oil selling charmer is a little too smug to convince as the ruthless John Bishop.
It’s true that we nearly all do like a happy ending, but not at the expense of the integrity of a whole movie. Leaving the dark tone in would have made for a better film.