The Proposition
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir John Hillcoat
scr Nick Cave
with Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, David Wenham, John Hurt, Richard Wilson, David Gulpilil, Tom Budge, Robert Morgan, Leah Purcell, Rodney Boschman
release Aus 6.Oct.05, UK 3.Mar.06,
US 5.May.06
05/Australia 1h44

The Wild, Wild Outback: Pearce (above), Winstone and Watson (below)

huston wenham hurt


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The Proposition One of the grimiest Westerns ever put on film, this Aussie Outback drama has a strong story that's rather flattened by pretentious, over-serious filmmaking.

The three Burns brothers are the most wanted thugs in 1880s Australia, tenaciously hunted by the British Captain Stanley (Winstone), who honestly wants to clean up this savage land, much to the chagrin of his posh wife (Watson). After a massive shootout, he captures the younger brothers--brainy Charlie (Pearce) and frightened Mike (Wilson). Then he makes Charlie an offer: If he kills their brutal older brother Arthur (Huston), he won't hang Mike.

Clearly this will all go horribly wrong. And the writing and directing both indulge shamelessly in the morality-play elements. This is a collision between civilisation and lawlessness in which only Stanley and Charlie have some sense of conscience. The production design wallows in blood and sweat, dust and mud, bugs and carcasses--we feel the need to shower afterwards. And all of this combines to make the situations and characters feel constructed and not remotely sympathetic.

It also doesn't help that the film is so stubbornly humourless. It's as if every scene is deeply crucial, every word pure poetry, every landscape sheer perfection. There's nothing relaxed and real for us to grab hold of. Although the acting is terrific--most notably Winstone as the film's only truly complex character. Watson has little to do besides sulk, while Wenham is wasted as Stanley's prim, heartless boss. But Hurt goes for broke as a wild drunk, Huston is seriously deranged as the dehumanised fugitive, and Pearce is as intriguing as always.

Even with the over-earnest tone and the hyper-filthy design, this is a fascinating story about people in a new world where morality is still undefined. The actions of the colonialists are shockingly callous, torturing and killing at any whim simply because they can. And the film's earthy grit certainly gives us the feeling that we're right there in the middle of the muck, while also glorying in the spectacular Outback terrain. But it's not easy to watch. And any message is lost amid the grime and gore.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, grisliness 22.Sep.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Proposition Tom, Minnesota: 4/5 "While Malikesque in many parts, ably capturing the sumptous yet bleak landscape of twilight hour in New World Australia, this film will leave you with the feeling that flies are everywhere--the food, the flowers, the lips of your lover, and the spear-riddled dead body rotting in the corner. And flies serve as an apt symbol for a morally ambivelent movie where the only solution to most of the problems seems to be the barrel of the gun. Words can scarcely describe the frightening level of violence that explodes time and again with relative ease, while the characters hardly bat an eye. The film seems delighted in its own violence, but that seems to be the point. Unlike Terrence Malik's earlier release, The New World, Australia is no degraded, lost Eden. Then again, with the plethora of flies serving as interactive extras for most scenes, maybe this Eden is so rotten that no one can recognize it any longer." (11.Jun.06)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall