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Following the rape and murder of a colonial family, outlaw brothers
Charlie and Mikey burns are captured by ruthless local lawman, Captain
Stanley. Rather than imprison both fugitives, Stanley presents Charlie
with a proposition (though it's really a demand) that Charlie kill his
older brother, and gang leader, Arthur or else Mikey will meet his
demise at the end of a hangman's noose. It is a proposition which will
have karmic repercussions for all involved.
Directed by Brisbanite John Hillcoate from a script by Aussie indie icon Nick Cave, this film has some of the most gorgeous photography of the Australian outback ever committed to film, showcasing it's unique desolate beauty in it's dust, flies and exquisite sunsets.
Hillcoate assembles a very fine ensemble cast, most notably Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley and Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns - two actors performing at the top of their game. Danny Huston is effective as Arthur Burns, a man whose serene exterior belies his vicious temperament. Other performers include Emily Watson and John Hurt, as well as fine Australian talent David Wenham, Leah Purcell, Tommy Lewis and quintessential movie aborigine David Gulpilil. All performances are excellent.
Despite it's high violence quotient, the film has an admirable lack of moralistic tone. There are no obvious good guys and bad guys, all the characters are shades of grey possessing both positive and negative attributes, although some characters may lean one way or the other. In particular, Captain Stanley has a good heart though history may judge his methods of justice with contempt, and Charlie Burns has a fierce sense of loyalty and honour but his associated family ties have led him to commit horrific crimes. Even Captain Stanley's wife, Martha, in all her Victorian innocence and naivety, has a dark side to her soul; an attribute which will further propel all towards their destinies.
It's strong subtext of white colonialists' condescending treatment of the aboriginal population puts this film in fine company with other Australian indigenous-themed films such as Fred Schepisi's The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith, Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout, Rolf de Heer's The Tracker and Phillip Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence. The Proposition is the best of these. This is a big call, I know, but the fact is that none of those other very fine Australian films possess the tension which so completely permeates Hillcoates' picture. This film represents a major achievement for both Hillcoate and Cave and is the best Australian film to leave these shores since Ray Lawrence's Lantana.
8.5 out of 10.
Just superb - wonderful, austere direction that gets the best from a
great cast and some extraordinary landscapes. A tight, disciplined
script from Nick Cave that's testament to how his writing continues to
reach new levels - not to mention his collaboration with Warren Ellis
on the beautifully uneasy score.
There's a fantastic blend of European and Australian sensibilities here that makes this the least clichéd film to come out of this country for 20-odd years - and if it doesn't do well, it'll be because an increasingly soft and gutless nation is afraid to venture out of their frappuccino and mortgage comfort zone.
This is powerful, worthy art.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A real treat of a Western - gritty, bloody, unjust & riddled with flies. An apocalyptic glimpse of some hard family lessons from Nick Cave. Brilliant performances all round thanks to Ray Winstone, Emily Watson & Guy Pearce in particular. Visually stunning due to the location (anyone with the ability to remove a lens cap or activate a camera would capture something beautiful in that wonderful country Australia! But these scenes just envelope you and burn into your brain - in a good way). Tempting to add more to this scant comment box but it might just take something away from your viewing pleasure. And that would be a travesty because this is definitely a film to go in "fresh" to.
Nick Cave's essay in the true and tried Western format, shows how a harsh land (Colonial Australia) brutalizes the men who try and conquer it. Yet this tale has passages of lyricism that counterpoint the sudden moments of savagery. It is a very gritty often grisly picture of 19th Century Australia, warts and all, right down to swarms of blowflies. Perhaps the sadistic violence gets a bit over the top especially towards the end, but thanks to a fine cast, crisp direction, and the scorched cinematography it generally works. A standout performance in a minor role by John Hurt rather steals the show, while Ray Winstone and Emily Watson are particularly sensitive together. One suspects the harsh conditions are somewhat overstated for dramatic purposes, though the story is supposedly based on fact. Tombstone Territory never looked as unpleasant as this. It is certainly one of the most interesting period dramas made in Australia.
I don't enjoy violence in movies, especially if it's unnecessary. But
this movie was justified in its use. Calling this movie very violent or
bloody is misunderstanding the movie - it's taking the focus away from
what matters in the movie: the landscape, the directing, the music, the
characters as they are being acted out the story as it's unfolding. The
violence connects you with the feelings and thoughts of the characters
and conveys the the mood of the era - I came away feeling as if I had
experienced living in "wild" Queensland. The story is simple but it's
very well executed. And needless to say, I've learned from every single
Guy Pearce movie I've seen. Ray Winstone was incredible, Emily Watson
very effective, and John Hurt was a pleasurable bonus.
The ending is poetic and beautifully done.
This movie is a visceral, violent study of blood-ties exploring ethnic
and family bonds, feuds, loyalty and betrayal. You can literally smell
the reeking sweat, blood and dust of the colonial Outback coming off
Nick Cave's script is shot through with his signature dark poetry; it translates wonderfully onto the screen. Guy Pearce, Ray Winston and Danny Huston put in powerful performances. Emily Watson is also superb but somehow this film seems to be more about men than women and so her performance feels a little isolated from the rest of the movie.
The film is a strangely skewed morality tale crossed with a tale of the absurd. There is something so absurd about Captain Stanley's English breakfast and standard roses in the hot, fly-blown wastelands of the movie, and off course there is something so absurd about how violent humans beings are to each other. Despite all the violence though, some of which is stomach-turning, this movie has some moments of great tenderness and elegy.
Put simply this is the best Australian movie I have seen for years. A so-called Australian Western this is uniquely Australian and a must see for both Australian audiences and international audiences who would have no idea what living in early 'civilised' Australia must have been like. Well acted with top internationally recognized talent (Pearce and Winstone are fantastic), beautiful landscapes, and a violent yet somewhat beautiful and (again) unique story, I hope this movie is seen well beyond the Art-house, and I hope there is adequate marketing because this movie is so much better than the run-of-the-mill stuff we usually see in the cinema.
Everyone connected with this film should be extremely proud of the
movie they created. I will mention specifically: Delhomme for his
extraordinary cinematography; Eden for her beautifully stark Set
Decoration; Hillcoat for impeccable direction and especially John Hurt
in a small but tremendously evocative early role.
A staggeringly moving and uncompromising examination of contemporary emotions set against our early settlement history. The first thing I noticed about this film was the look of Guy Pearce's character's hair-dirty and stringy-something that Hollywood with it's pretensions and million-dollar babies would never allow. But these people looked bad, acted bad and I'm sure-smelt bad. In short, they were real people and they acted as real people in those monstrously uncompromising times would have acted.
My friend said after viewing the film, that he didn't believe early Australia had the same frontier gun culture that is so often displayed in American films of the same genre. I too do not believe that our early settlement revolved around the gun mania of American settlement but I was not bothered by the gun culture shown in The Proposition. I kept looking for bits that did not play right and I could not find any-the film played real to me from beginning to end. Although extremely violent in those parts where violence was called for, this violence did not seem out of place or overdone. I have tried to know something of our early settlement history and what I saw fitted into that mental picture well. The unimaginable violence we displayed to the Aboriginal people was masked and not really a part of what occurred in this film so if some of that violence was shown towards white settlers then it seemed to blend in this film.
An extraordinary film and I hope against hope that it will be eminently successful and therefore lead to the creation of other films based upon our early settlement history.
Australia is a country in the throws of settlement by the English and
lawlessness is rife. As the bloody clearing of aborigines continues,
one gang's attack on a white family causes outrage. The pressure is on
Captain Stanley to bring in the Burns gang, led by the sadistic and
heartless Arthur. When Stanley's men capture the two younger brothers
he strikes a deal with Charlie, the elder of the two. In nine days
time, on Christmas Day, young Mike will hang unless Charlie has
returned with his brother dead or alive.
The plot summary and the advertising seemed to offer some form of thriller but in reality the film delivers something altogether more interesting and memorable. Set in the Australia outback where settlements are being born and laws being established, the film charts the moral complexities of the good and bad in the story while painting a beautifully bleak backdrop of open space and bloody, pointless violence. It is not an easy film to watch and certainly not one to expect to come out of laughing or feeling good about things. Nor is it a film to go into expecting a traditional plot because it is this area where the film is at its weakest because it is not a "this happened, this happened then that happened" sort of story. This is not to say it is boring but it does require patience for the casual viewer. Personally I found most scenes to be interesting but most admit that the narrative kind of hangs around rather than moving forward firmly in one direction.
The substance is more in the characters than in the narrative and on this level it was engaging. Although the posters and summary will tell you this is about the Burns brothers, it is as much if not more about Stanley and his wife. It is he would has the duality of trying to defeat violence by encouraging it while also heaving under the burden of trying to take this job entirely on his own shoulders while protecting his wife from knowing anything about the real world out in the desert. It is an interesting thread and for my money it was the thrust of the story the issue of what Charlie will do is actually part of Stanley's story rather than the other way around. With this as the story the film is much better because it does paint a convincing tale around this. The Burns brothers thread is still interesting but less is done with it with Arthur himself being very little more than an enigmatic plot device.
Style wise the film is fantastic as it delivers a bleakly convincing picture of the birth of Australia. The landscape is beautifully filmed and, although Cave could have done more as writer, his contribution to the soundtrack is as welcome as it is well used. The sudden moments of violence are uncomfortable and difficult to watch. They are delivered in visceral moments of gore that are bereft of any touches that would glamorise the death; here it is horrible and full of flies. Of course you are right to note that a hauntingly stylish delivery should not be taken as a replacement for substance but I think it has just about enough of the latter and an abundance of the former to carry the film as a whole.
The cast are mixed but nobody really turns in a bad performance. Winstone dominates the film with easily the best performance and the most interesting character. His Captain Stanley wears every decision and Winstone allows us to see the effect this country has had on his soul. Watson is also good, simple at first but touched by the violence that her husband cannot defend her from. Pearce is an astute and subtle actor who keeps the audience with his thread even though it is less interesting; however Huston is not used as well as he deserved. He gives a memorable performance but his character is never more than an action waiting to happen. Wilson is convincingly young and his flogging is difficult to stomach, while Hurt turns up in a nice cameo as a bounty hunter. As much as the performances though, the film is about atmosphere, and Hillcoat has done a great job in producing a desolate film that is as beautiful as it is disheartening.
An imperfect film due to the lack of a strong narrative, this is still a memorable affair for many reasons. It looks great, has a great use of music and produces a haunting desolation in the country and the characters. Not a fun night out by any means but for what it is, it is well worth seeing.
Set on an arid desert and sun-baked continent, during the late 1800's
British settlement days, Pearce stars as Charlie Burns, one of three
brothers that make up the notorious criminal Arthur Burns
At the opening credits Charlie and his younger brother the 14-year-old Mikey are captured after a bloody shoot out with regional Captain Stanley in the aftermath of a brutal rape and murder The decent captain is after their eldest brother Arthur described as 'the beast,' and is prepared to do just about anything to get him...
Thus Stanley lays out Charlie an unholy bargain: While Mikey stays in his custody, in jail, Charlie must find, kill or return Arthur or his teenaged brother will be hung on Christmas Day He has nine days to do so
Charlie eventually finds his brother but is left with one choice He must decide if he can live with his decision to either kill Arthur or let Mikey be executed
John Hillcoat's characters not only strike us with their emotions of grief and pain, or their passion of hate but they are presented in their real states that sway down hopelessness, denial, pity and firm belief
Pearce combines a touch of kindness to Charlie's character, but it's a touch that keeps out of the way any love It's, in essence, only enough to add a decisive influence on his personality that makes him unpredictable
Danny Huston is magnificent as Arthur Burns His deeply intelligence and totally brutal character is captured in a very good sense
Richard Wilson, Mikey is given little to do beyond being frightened and horrorized
Winstone is amazing in the role of the army officer who wants to civilize the place We feel how his nerves are about to break He imprisons his wife Martha for safety and protection caring at the same time about her delicate sensibilities
Emily Watson is absolutely stunning as the fragile woman whose gentleness captures convincingly the character of Emily, the innocent wife who cares about her husband, her house and her perfect "garden" but her way of life is so far away from the reality of her surroundings
John Hurt gives an interesting performance as the deranged bounty hunter
"The Proposition" is too violent, too dirty, too bloody, and too barbaric to be forgotten so easily
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