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OLD WEST, SAME AS THE NEW WEST?

Natalie Portman in "Jane Got a Gun"

For Hicksflicks.com, Jan. 31, 2014

I miss Westerns.

Regular readers of my scribblings over the years won't be surprised by that. I often lament the death of the Western and whenever one comes along I hope that it will be a blockbuster and lead to more.

In the Deseret News I raved about "Silverado" (1985), I loved "Open Range" (2003) and I thought "Appaloosa" (2008) was great.

Didn't matter. The box-office earnings were OK but not strong enough to reignite the genre.

And when one really bombs, such as Disney's "The Lone Ranger" last year, it definitely hurts any prospects for more.

But every now and again, someone with the power to get a greenlight from the studios develops an itch to revive the genre, usually with some new spin designed to bring in young folk. That never works either. (See "The Lone Ranger.")

But, except for a vulgar comedy spoof that was already in production, I didn't really expect to see any straight Westerns this year.

The comedy is "A Million Ways to Die in the West" — a lampoon written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, who also stars. The film will no doubt be rated R for all kinds of raunchy gags; MacFarlane is famous for the sleazy animated TV series "The Family Guy," as well as the unexpected 2012 movie hit "Ted," about a foul-mouthed teddy bear.

But when I recently took a look at a list of scheduled 2014 movies to assess the prospective year in film, to my surprise I saw another Western: "Jane Got a Gun," starring Natalie Portman as a frontier wife who picks up the title weapon and vows revenge on whoever shot her husband in the back. Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton co-star.

The film is written by newcomer Brian Duffield and was reportedly rewritten by Anthony Tambakis, who is most famous for the script for "Warrior" (2011), a very good estranged-brothers-in-the-boxing-ring film directed by Gavin O'Connor.

And O'Connor is the director of "Jane Got a Gun." Even better, O'Connor also directed the excellent "Miracle" (2004), with Kurt Russell in the story of the U.S. Olympic hockey team victory over Russia in 1980.

Whether "Jane Got a Gun" will be a straight narrative or a tricked-up modern effort with contemporary dialogue or shaky-cam or dull color or computer-animation is anyone's guess at this point. But given the talent involved, I can't help but get my hopes up.

It's in post-production now and scheduled to hit theaters in August. Cross your fingers.