239 user 171 critic

The Proposition (2005)

A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him nine days to kill his older brother, or else they'll execute his younger brother.


John Hillcoat


Nick Cave (screenplay)
4,468 ( 161)

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13 wins & 30 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Richard Wilson ... Mike Burns
Noah Taylor ... Brian O'Leary
Jeremy Madrona Jeremy Madrona ... Asian Prostitute
Jae Mamuyac Jae Mamuyac ... Asian Prostitute
Guy Pearce ... Charlie Burns
Mick Roughan Mick Roughan ... Mad Jack Bradshaw
Shane Watt Shane Watt ... John Gordon
Ray Winstone ... Captain Stanley
Robert Morgan ... Sergeant Lawrence
David Gulpilil ... Jacko
Bryan Probets Bryan Probets ... Officer Dunn
Oliver Ackland ... Patrick Hopkins
Danny Huston ... Arthur Burns
David Vallon David Vallon ... Tom Cox
Daniel Parker Daniel Parker ... Henry Clark


Rural Australia in the late nineteenth century: Capt. Stanley and his men capture two of the three Burns brothers, Charlie and Mike. Their gang is held responsible for attacking the Hopkins farm, raping pregnant Mrs. Hopkins and murdering the whole family. Arthur Burns, the eldest brother and the gang's mastermind, remains on the loose and has retreated to a mountain hideout. Capt. Stanley's proposition to Charlie is to gain pardon and - more importantly - save his beloved younger brother Mike from the gallows by finding and killing Arthur within nine days. Written by Armin Ortmann {armin@sfb288.math.tu-berlin.de}

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Written by Nick Cave directed by John Hillcoat See more »


Crime | Drama | Western

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong grisly violence, and for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Bodega Films [France]


Australia | UK


English | Aboriginal

Release Date:

9 June 2006 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Proposition See more »

Filming Locations:

Queensland, Australia See more »


Box Office


$2,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$215,987 (Australia), 14 October 2005, Limited Release

Opening Weekend USA:

$62,723, 19 May 2006, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$1,900,725, 10 September 2006
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Screenwriter Nick Cave finished the script in three weeks. See more »


Captain Stanley says of Australia "What fresh Hell is this?" The scene takes place in the 1880s, yet the quote is attributed to Dorothy Parker, who would not have been born yet. See more »


[first lines]
Captain Stanley: Do I need to introduce myself?
Charlie Burns: I know who you are.
Captain Stanley: Good. I know who you are.
See more »


Featured in WatchMojo: Top 10 Modern Westerns (2015) See more »


The Rider Song
Composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Performed by Nick Cave
See more »

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User Reviews

An Aussie Heart of Darkness
10 February 2010 | by CountZero313See all my reviews

An inspired Hillcoat-Cave collaboration that will repulse and attract audiences in equal measure, The Proposition is a lyrical, enigmatic but brutal examination of the human condition set in early settler Australia. Hillcoat's stark framing and unflinching portrayal of violence is perfectly blended with Cave's multi-dimensional characters, and atmospheric soundtrack.

Captain Stanley goes after the murderous Burns brothers by setting them against each other. His proposition is that middle brother Charlie kill older brother Arthur, in order to save younger brother Mike from the noose. It is expedient justice but also astute psychology on Stanley's part; Charlie seems less than reluctant to take on the task of dispensing with his charismatic but psychotic older sibling.

Stanley's mantra is that he will civilize this land, but his failing is in choosing the wrong target. His treacherous sergeant, feeble superior, and uptight wife together conspire through ignorance and fear to undo the Captain's intent. When Mike is flogged beyond reason and physical endurance, the Captain's moral argument is won, but perhaps at the price of all their lives, as the Burns brothers come seeking vengeance.

Pearce adds impressively to his CV, in an understated but powerful performance as the brooding middle brother. Stanley is not exactly a good guy, but as much on the side of good as it is possible to be in this God-forsaken landscape. It has taken a while to get used to Winstone in such roles, starting with Sexy beast, but he is wearing them with aplomb now. Danny Huston is a pleasant surprise as the educated but deranged Arthur, while John Hurt revels in playing against type. Emily Watson, never less than excellent, embodies the prim Victorian. My own first impression of Australia was flies, flies, flies, and Hillcoat captures this. The question is not why there are so many flies in this film, but why they are curiously absent from other Australian films. They are both a metaphor for the squalor and decay that infest existence, and an acutely observed detail of the arena.

Before the British, other Europeans famously arrived in Australia but considered the landscape uninhabitable. Threaded through The Proposition is the suggestion that they were right.

The broader reference is the existence of our dark side, embodied in Arthur, a Kurtz-like figure, a god-like presence in an inhospitable landscape, facing an assassin dispatched from a 'civilization' that does not like what he reminds them of. The film references Conrad's infamous tale but anchors it in this universal tale of white men's ill-fated attempts to conquer a land where they do not belong. The aborigines tolerate them, or despair of them. "Strange, you whities" says Jacko, while house servant Tobey shows his role as subservient ends at the garden gate, where he leaves his boots and returns to his barefoot roots. Two Bob simply abandons his white mates at the end. Like the land, their attitudes to these invaders range from indifferent to hostile.

The Proposition is less poetic violence than violent poetry. Too much to take in here in one viewing, in time to come this might just match Walkabout as the masterpiece of Australia-set cinema.

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