Even before it all fell apart, Jane Got a Gun was a movie people talked about. Based on a script by Brian Duffield — which appeared on the annual Black List of the best unproduced screenplays — and to be directed by Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin), the Western had the star power to back up its behind-the-scenes credentials. Oscar winner Natalie Portman would play Jane, the title character, who must turn to a former lover (Michael Fassbender) to save her wounded husband from an outlaw (Joel Edgerton). Everything appeared to be in place — and then the film started bucking off its talent faster than a prize rodeo bull.
The trouble started in March 2013 when news broke that Fassbender’s commitment to X-Men: Days of Future Past conflicted with Jane’s shooting schedule. A quick recasting shifted Edgerton to Fassbender’s vacated role and brought in Jude Law as the new villain. Then, on the day that filming was to begin, Ramsay didn’t report to set.
Shortly thereafter, the film lost Law and cinematographer Darius Khondji. A lawsuit against Ramsay filed on behalf of the production claimed the director failed to hand in contractually obligated script rewrites, was “repeatedly under the influence of alcohol,” and improperly handled prop weapons on set. Ramsay’s camp called the accusations “simply false,” and eventually the suit was settled.
But with millions already invested in the production, that couldn’t be the end. Two days after Ramsay’s exit, director Gavin O’Connor signed on, bringing with him his Warrior writer Anthony Tambakis, who collaborated with Edgerton on a new draft of the script. Bradley Cooper became attached to replace Law… then dropped out because of American Hustle and was then replaced by Ewan McGregor.
With filming finally under way, Jane Got a Gun managed to find distribution from Relativity Media and The Weinstein Company, with the latter primarily consulting on marketing. But it was still tumbleweeds: A release date of Aug. 29, 2014, was set, then delayed to Feb. 20, 2015, then to Sept. 4.
In the meantime, Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy, once again leaving the movie’s future in jeopardy. Prior to the filing, however, producers pulled the film from Relativity and approached Weinstein about distributing the film alone, striking a new deal and setting the current release date, Jan. 29.
The Weinstein Company isn’t worried that all this will affect ticket sales, because the tortured backstory is only interesting in Hollywood. “I think [a production’s history] matters a lot more in this town than it does in middle America,” says Erik Lomis, the president of distribution for The Weinstein Company. “I don’t know that they pay as much attention to the stuff.”