A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2006 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)
Flanked by yet another phenomenal sunset, a trio of turn of the
century Australian outlaws ruminates over one's definition of the word
misanthrope--"a bugger who hates every other bugger." "Are we
misanthropes?" questions one. "Lord no," replies the leader of the
barbaric, gunrunning bunch. "We're family."
Yet with the family values on display in "The Proposition," a
brutal, bloody eastern from the pen of bad seed Nick Cave (who also
contributes the film's fine offbeat score), nobody would appear to need
Although set Down Under at a time when "do-gooders" felt they
could civilize things by purging the land of its indigenous "vermin"
(i.e., Aborigines), John Hillcoat's film owes much to the American
westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks and (especially) Sam Peckinpah,
with its bleak realism and spurious bloodletting. There are untold
visions of sprawling vistas and monumental valleys with their buttes
and crests and reddening sands. There are ramshackle towns with
rickety buildings and rickets-ridden residents, their streets thick
with mud. And there are those spectacular sunsets: crimson, orange,
"The Proposition" opens in the middle of a firefight: bullets
ping, crack, and whiz, splintering wood, perforating bodies. Charlie
Burns (Guy Pearce in another sweaty, shirtless performance) and his
younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are finally outgunned and
brought before lawman Captain Stanley ("Sexy Beast"'s Ray Winstone)
wherein the proposition of the title is eventually put:
"Now, suppose I told you there was a way to save your little
brother Mikey from the noose. Suppose I gave you a horse and a gun.
Suppose, Mr. Burns, I was to give both you and your young brother Mikey
here a pardon. Suppose I said that I could give you the chance to
expunge the guilt beneath which you so clearly labor. Suppose I gave
you till Christmas. Now, suppose you tell me what it is I want from
"You want me to kill my brother," answers Charlie calmly,
casually, as if it were the most normal request in the world.
Both men mean Arthur (Danny Huston), Charlie's rogue older
brother. He and his gang bushwhacked the God fearing Hopkins family,
raped and murdered them, then fled to the high hills where even the
best aboriginal tracker cannot find him. But Charlie can. And perhaps
bring these last vestiges of the bloody Burns gang in, or do what was
supposed of him this Christmas, where snow is something made of cotton
you unroll and surround a tree imported by a woman with connections.
Emily Watson plays Stanley's wife, cutting a porcelain-like swath
through this grisly land. She's lonely up at the house and concerned
for her husband's welfare (he's been away three days hunting this Burns
bounty of his).
And all the time there are the flies, forever buzzing around,
settling. The actors become like cattle, barely brushing them away,
from cheeks, foreheads, even eyes. It's all a little too authentic
thank you, especially the film's flashes of violence, which are both
disturbing and rarely telegraphed. Pearce shines in another downbeat,
non-flashy role as does Winstone and there's both beauty and brutality
to be had in this film, as well as some sly social commentary--it
reminded me of "'Jimmy Blacksmith" in many ways.
But let me end this "'Proposition" with a sentence: Christmas,
thankfully, comes but once a year.
David N. Butterworth
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