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Review: The Proposition

The Proposition

Directed by John Hillcoat.
Written by Nick Cave.
Starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, David Wenham, and Emily Watson.

The Proposition is a 2005 Australian Western centering a British lawman in a small Australian town Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), and deal he makes with… not the devil, but a devil — namely Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce). Charlie is presented with an ultimatum: to save his younger brother Mikey from hanging, he must kill his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of a small gang of heinous, psychopathic criminals.

As Charlie sets out to find his brother, he runs afoul of a racist bounty hunter (John Hurt, in an amazing glorified cameo), Captain Stanley attempts to protect his wife (Emily Watson) from the horrors of his job and their newly adopted home, a slimy piece-of-crap politician (David Wenham, a.k.a. Faramir) throws a cog in Stanley’s plan, and a bunch of messed up shit happens.

It’s that B story between Stanley and his wife that prevents the film from being too unrelentingly bleak, like director John Hillcoat’s follow-up, the Cormac McCarthy adaptation, The Road. The tender exchanges, sublimely etched by the two actors, almost erase the shocks in nearly every other scene. More than anything else, they give the film its humanity, and yet they also give you perspective from which to register the more shocking moments that much more intensely.

I don’t say this too often, and I don’t say this lightly, but The Proposition is a perfect film. From its first disorienting seconds to its gut-wrenching last, the film does everything it needs to, exactly when it needs to, exactly how it needs to. The violence is sickening, as it should be, to justify exactly why Arthur Burns needs to die. The impeccably shot Australian landscape is, at turns, gorgeous and oppressive, as it should be. The dialogue is exquisitely chosen. And the pace, though it may fool you in a few scenes, never lets up for a moment. The screenplay by Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave) is just that good.

This is the Western with all the hokum and fantasy sucked out, folks. It’s ugly, it’s difficult, and it’s an absolute masterpiece.

The Proposition is available from the Criterion Collection on DVD, Blu-Ray, Amazon Video On Demand, and Netflix (via disc and streaming).

4 Responses to “Review: The Proposition”

  1. Was not a big fan of this movie. Saw it in the theaters and the pace seemed very slow to me.

    That being said this movie has a very good atmosphere. I felt the dirt and heat of the Australian outback. Also, the incredible amounts of flies on people kinda grossed me out. And John Hurt was awesome.

    I did think The Road was an amazing movie that should have been at least nominated for some awards last year.

  2. I encourage you to give it another shot; you may enjoy the movie more a second time. I’ve seen it four times now, and I’m convinced it’s one of the most economical screen stories I’ve seen — much more than you might think at first glance (hence the bit where I say “though it may fool you in a few scenes”…).

    I’ll readily admit I love glacially-paced movies (I considered Walkabout as a follow-up to this film, but thought maybe I should take it easy on everybody’s brains for a week, including my own). But I’ve never thought The Proposition was one of them.

  3. I will give it another shot in the future based off of how much I loved ‘The Road’. It might have just caught me on an off night. I hated Re-Animator the first time I saw it, now think its an amazing flick.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This movie definitely left an impact on me. The way the story unfolds is just tragically brilliant and it couldn’t have been done better. The tension in each and every scene, not to mention the score and cinematography deserve a lot of praise. This film didn’t even receive a limited distribution release in the US.