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The Proposition (2005)

tomatometer

87

Average Rating: 7.3/10
Reviews Counted: 123
Fresh: 107 | Rotten: 16

Brutal, unflinching, and violent, but thought-provoking and with excellent performances, this Australian western is the one of the best examples of the genre to come along in recent times.

84

Average Rating: 7.3/10
Critic Reviews: 37
Fresh: 31 | Rotten: 6

Brutal, unflinching, and violent, but thought-provoking and with excellent performances, this Australian western is the one of the best examples of the genre to come along in recent times.

audience

86

liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 67,896

My Rating

Movie Info

An outlaw is goaded into taking on justice at its most brutal in this hard-edged Western set in rural Australia in the 1880s. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is a criminal living in the outback. He and his two brothers, Arthur (Danny Huston) and Mikey (Richard Wilson), are on the run from the law for rape and murder. Arthur is a violent and dangerous sociopath with a much longer rap sheet than his siblings and a reputation for hiding out in villages so lawless the police are afraid to visit them,

R,

Western, Drama, Action & Adventure

Nick Cave

Sep 19, 2006

$1.7M

First Look Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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Cast

Latest News on The Proposition

May 8, 2006:
Trailer Bulletin: The Proposition
If you like your action westerns extra gritty and a little on the Australian side, you'll want to be...
May 5, 2006:
Guy Pearce and John Hillcoat Discuss "The Proposition"
Director John Hillcoat had a big ambition when he undertook "The Proposition": a Western...

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All Critics (127) | Top Critics (38) | Fresh (107) | Rotten (16) | DVD (14)

A beautifully shot tracker's western that brings the Fordian poles of garden and desert to bear on the bushrangers' Outback, this is also a revenge drama of substantial horror.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A visionary tale of a fragile civilizing impulse crushed by family loyalty and a lust for revenge in the vast Outback of the late 19th century.

June 22, 2006 Full Review Source: Wall Street Journal
Wall Street Journal
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It doesn't offer much that hasn't already been said about lawless frontier towns, bonds between outlaws or the settling of the West.

June 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

By the end, it all pays off exactly the way a hundred earlier Westerns did.

June 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In-your-face combativeness is The Proposition's power, and for those of you who value your westerns, the effect is not unlike that of The Wild Bunch or Unforgiven.

June 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's fitting that The Proposition is set Down Under, because in many ways, it's a reverse Western.

June 8, 2006 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

John Hillcoat's violence-probing Western feels as uncompromisingly bleak, royally widescreen and graphically violent as any Sam Peckinpah opus - a sunburned, grimy-nailed saga of point-blank executions and blood wrung from a cat o' nine tails.

September 17, 2010 Full Review Source: Suite101.com
Suite101.com

Ferocious yet free of shallow misanthropy

August 30, 2009 Full Review Source: CinePassion
CinePassion

What the characters have in common--the only thing they have in common, really--is the desire for community amid the well-founded expectation of imminent, violent death.

August 21, 2009 Full Review Source: City Pages, Minneapolis/St. Paul

ustralian-born singer/songwriter Nick Cave pens his second film (after "Ghosts ... Of The Civil Dead") and generates a prescient allegory about imperialism.

April 19, 2009 Full Review Source: ColeSmithey.com
ColeSmithey.com

Guy Pearce seems to have boiled himself down into some kind of Guy Pearce Concentrate. Winstone looks like he's been sculpted from the Australian wilderness around him.

August 22, 2007 | Comment (1)
Looking Closer

a mythic exploration of the ever shifting frontier between savagery and civilisation in an unforgiving landscape.

August 3, 2007 Full Review Source: Eye for Film
Eye for Film

Any movie that can cling to your memory with as much brutal power as this fantastic film is unquestionably a proposition worth taking.

March 24, 2007 Full Review Source: UGO

The finest, strangest and most uncompromising western to hit screens since Unforgiven.

March 1, 2007 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

Cave's screenplay is masterful in taking the trappings of the western genre and transposing them to the Australian Outback. There's an ebb and flow to his writing and there's also the sense that tragedy is inevitable. He also manages to work in the dep

January 12, 2007 Full Review Source: Murphy's Movie Reviews
Murphy's Movie Reviews

An Australian western without genre traditions in mind -- instead, their movie explores the complexities of moral relativity.

December 30, 2006 Full Review Source: Window to the Movies
Window to the Movies

This Aussie horse opera doesn't so much present an exotic, bizarro version of the Wild West as the apotheosis of it.

August 7, 2006 Full Review Source: Not Coming to a Theater Near You
Not Coming to a Theater Near You

It's as strong a Western as you're likely to see, at least since Clint Eastwood gave us Unforgiven 14 years ago.

August 4, 2006 Full Review Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

... a movie full of startling and sometimes beautiful moments

July 4, 2006 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The Proposition depicts male brutality, both within and without the confines of the law, in a beautifully measured way that doesn't kill the intensity of the narrative--wild contrasts, ironic similarities, and all.

June 28, 2006 Full Review Source: Blogcritics.org
Blogcritics.org

Despite perpetual rumors of its demise as a genre, the Western is alive and well in the Australian outback.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Beauty, brutality, some sly social commentary... plus another sweaty, shirtless performance from Guy Pearce highlight this Aussie western from the pen of Bad Seed Nick Cave.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: rec.arts.movies.reviews
rec.arts.movies.reviews

When it comes to condemning the ancient Western code of violence, this film should practice what it preaches.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine | Comments (2)
Boxoffice Magazine

It echoes, if not captures, the genre's harshest narrative and poetically visual trademarks -- all that's missing is Monument Valley -- while rejecting any romantic notions about how people shape their worlds, and vice versa.

June 23, 2006
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Audience Reviews for The Proposition

A balanced and compact movie. Not too much information, no unnecessary dialog, no extensive character building. Good soundtrack.
A friend of mine said I should see it because I said I wasn't a fan of Guy Pierce, but he was alright. I sure am itching to see him in Lawless!
July 20, 2012
Saxia

Super Reviewer

Nick Cave writes a unflinchingly brutal tale of the Australian Outback circa 1880 when the British Empire was molding the wilderness into its own likeness. Excellent performances carry the sometimes difficult poetic language of civilisation headbutting savagery.
November 5, 2011
ApeneckFletcher

Super Reviewer

I can't say I've seen many westerns, but from what I have seen I can tell I want to see some more. 'The Propsotion' is an Australian western about Charlie Burns' (Guy Pearce) journey to save his brother from being hanged by handing in his other brother Arthur (Danny Houston). Arthur however is a well known cowboy bad man wanted for multiple accounts of rape and murder, who likes to reside on villages the police are scared to enter.

The main part of the film is about Charlie Burn's journey up to the mountains to find his brother, it mainly revolves around walking really slowly on a horse so the camera man can go to town on the scenery, and go to town he does, the film is spectacular to look at. These scenes of gentle horse trotting however are contrated against by strong scenes of violence and general face exploding action, which is nice.

The film picks up once most of the walking is over and turns into an interesting thought provoking film about brotherhood and loyalty. It also has an awesome ending.
August 22, 2011
Cameron Sherwell

Super Reviewer

In any kind of ideas-driven film, there has to be a balance between the ideas being addressed and the characters through whom such ideas are conveyed. And in any genre film it's easy to get the balance wrong because of the availability of stock plots and characters - something which is especially true with westerns.

At one end of the spectrum, we have There Will Be Blood - a film with substance pouring from its every orifice, but only one convincing character through which this can be channelled. Because no-one else can rival Daniel Day-Lewis, none of the ideas about imperialism, economics and religion create anything like the emotional impact they should. At the other end, we have The Proposition, a western with many rich performances from a very well-chosen cast, but which is ultimately a little too straightforward in its execution.

On the good side, The Proposition does a very good job of demonstrating just how hardy the western genre is, showing how its conventions can be applied to any environment with the same effect. Until we first hear Guy Pearce's Irish lilt or Ray Winstone's throaty London growl, we could have sworn that we were back in the Wild West. In throwing us off so cleanly in its opening section, the film amply demonstrates how the familiar trademarks of westerns are not restricted or confined by geography, any more than the ideas which such films attempt to address.

This hardiness is cemented by the central performances, which take the various stock characters and adapt them to their new surroundings to create a number of memorable turns. Ray Winstone's troubled Captain Stanley is the outback's equivalent of the battle-worn sheriff, someone who has seen one too many gunfights and longs for peace while despairingly mindful that it is impossible. On top of his usual gruff posturing and natural aggression, Winstone brings a vulnerable quality to the part which makes him more compelling.

The other performers are equally impressive. Emily Watson continues to be the go-to actress for delicate, sensitive female characters. She succeeds where Meryl Streep has so often failed, namely being emotionally wrought and highly strung without being showy or attention-seeking. David Wenham casts off the mantle of Faramir as the uptight, lip-curling Eden Fletcher, who seeks order and justice without really understanding what is needed to achieve either. And Guy Pearce remains one of the most underrated actors of his generation: very few people could go from the grimy, scuzzy Charlie Burns to Andy Warhol in under 12 months.

With this rich cast in place, we begin to appreciate the various ideas which The Proposition is trying to raise. The setting of 1880s Australia instinctively raises the issue of imperialism, and that is confirmed by the early section of the film. Stanley constantly talks about his desire to "civilise this land" by whatever means. His clashes with Fletcher are not simply a difference in personality, but a reflection of differing attitudes to justice and 'the colonials'.

Fletcher is the new boy in town and wants to do things by the book: he insists on having Mickey Burns flogged to death since the 'proposition' was not binding in law. Stanley, meanwhile, has been out there long enough to know you sometimes have to compromise, letting a small evil slip through the net so you can deal with the big evil. But he has not become entirely lost to the landscape, retaining his military dress and insisting upon turkey at Christmas.

Although there is imperial politics hanging over the events in The Proposition, the focus is much more on the personal than the political. To a certain extent the film argues that the actual working nature of the British Empire was determined more by individual desire than anything more noble or idealistic (insofar as empire-building could be either of those things). Neither Stanley nor Fletcher ever mention 'the old country' or appeal to high ideals to justify their actions. It could even be argued that Stanley's motivations behind his deal with Charlie Burns was motivated out of nothing more than wanting peace with his wife (which makes his final scene all the more ironic).

Coming from a script by Nick Cave, The Proposition has its fair share of grim Biblical imagery. The brutal dilemmas faced by the characters mirror various stories in the Old Testament about individuals being called upon to commit murder in the name of justice and righteousness. Charlie's act is both a betrayal of his own kin and an attempt to save it, mirroring Cain's conflicted nature when he murdered Abel in Genesis. And the level of violent retribution is worthy of anything in the book of Judges; the raping of Stanley's wife is no less repulsive than Ehud's murder of the fat king Eglon, or Jael driving a tent peg through her master's temples as he slept.

Like Winter's Bone a few years later, The Proposition also has atmosphere to spare. John Hillcoat shoots the scenes of Charlie Burns' quest with a completely unfussy eye, letting the landscape speak for itself. While he does become more intrusive, he shoots conversation in close-up so that we can almost taste the sweat and feel the flies on the characters' faces. Music plays its role as well: in addition to the original score by Nick Cave and fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis, the opening shootout is carefully choreographed so that the bullets hitting the brothel become a form of percussion.

However, The Proposition also has the same basic flaw as Winter's Bone - namely that the story is far too thin even for its short running time. Atmosphere and score can only do so much in pulling us in, before the actual narrative and themes have to step in and take over. Sadly, once all Cave's music and sense of dread is stripped away, the remaining story is deceptively and disappointing simple, and nothing is resolved in a satisfying manner.

The sequences in the outback have great potential within them in terms of generating tension. The fearful comments of the Aborigines hint towards Apocalypse Now, with Charlie going deeper into the wilderness in search of his own personal Kurtz. But as with Hillcoat's subsequent film The Road, neither the script nor the direction allow a genuine sense of horror to build, and it becomes more about the journey itself than the meaning behind it. The scenery-chewing performances by John Hurt and Danny Huston may be good fun, but they undercut the sense of dread, making us feel like we are going round in circles.

This increasing lack of dread means that the existential implications of the story are also stifled. In No Country for Old Men, the relatively simple progression of the story was married to a deep-rooted examination of the nature of evil and the motivation behind it. You therefore felt that even when something happened which was abrupt or overly straightforward, there was a reason for it. The Proposition simply doesn't have that sense of weight which makes a good western into a great one, and that makes the violence in the last twenty minutes feel all the more gratuitous.

The Proposition is a promisingly decent debut for Hillcoat, who on the basis of The Road seems to be improving as a filmmaker. All the ingredients for a well-executed western are to be found in it, and in its acting and aesthetics it is well-crafted. But like Mad Max 3 before it, the film never lives up to the promise of the ideas that it raises, resulting in a film which is enjoyable but only memorable in passing.
April 17, 2011
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

    1. Jellon Lamb: I came to this forsaken land and the God in me just evaporated.
    – Submitted by Nigel M (16 months ago)
    1. Arthur Burns: Love, love is the king. Love and family.
    – Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)
    1. Martha Stanley: What if it had been me?
    – Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)
    1. Jellon Lamb: (singing) Oh, Danny boy, the flies, the flies are crawling.
    – Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)
    1. Captain Stanley: I will civilize this land.
    – Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)
    1. Charlie Burns: You want me to kill me brother.
    – Submitted by Frances H (18 months ago)
View all quotes (8)

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