The Proposition Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ July 20, 2012
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!
Super Reviewer
½ September 8, 2007
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.
Super Reviewer
½ August 22, 2011
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.
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
April 6, 2011
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.
Super Reviewer
November 26, 2006
A western set in the Australian outback, the proposition in question is made by Ray Winstone, a local police captain intent on civilizing the unkempt wilderness. He threatens to hang the younger brother of ex-outlaw Guy Pearce unless he hunts down and kills his older brother, a brutal rapist and murderer. The Proposition looks amazing, and having being written and scored by cult singer songwriter Nick Cave, sounds amazing as well. But somehow, it didn't quite gel for me. The characters are interesting, and the dialogue clever, but the relationships between the characters weren't quite there; it seemed like a collection of self consciously cool individuals and situations rather than a narrative flow. It's very low key in a similar way to The Assassination Of Jesse James and the sudden outbursts of graphic and brutal violence certainly grab the attention, but it concentrated too much on an unconvincing Ray Winstone and his wife rather than the far more interesting outlaws. It's certainly a film worth seeing, but it falls a little short of being great.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
January 3, 2011
I dont understand how this film was brutal at all. Compared to other westerns i understand, but the general critics keeps saying that this movie is bold and intense and filled with suspense. Personally, I think Assassination of Jesse James and even 3:10 to Yuma have more brutal scenes than this film. I've seen Guy Pierce in a good amount of movies and i still think he was better in Memento.
Super Reviewer
October 31, 2010
I first noticed Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast, a film that features Gandhi cursing for about an hour and a half, and since then, he's been good-to-serviceable in everything else. Until now. Winstone's performance as a man attempting to be genuine and decent in the wake of a colonial hellscape is the highlight of The Proposition, a film that begins by warning indigenous people (and I assume well-meaning non racists as well) that its depictions might be offensive. The central plot involving Pearce and Huston fails to hold our attention as much as Winstone's character, the British officer who is forced to be a member of a corrupt system while grasping at the edges of propriety. For those people who have trouble understanding Fanon, watch this film.
These are the positives. The negatives: the film spends too much time on Pearce and Huston. There's too little attention paid to the indigenous people's plights; we're supposed to infer too much. John Hurt, who normally gives wonderful performances, was sorely miscast as a psychotic bounty hunter.
Winstone was not miscast. See the film for his sake.
Super Reviewer
½ January 6, 2009
Hard core Australian western. Gritty, violent and substantial.
Super Reviewer
½ October 19, 2007
A phenomenal movie. One of the best Westerns ever made, period. Danny Huston's sinister performance is what really gives this movie a lot of personality, and Ray Winstone also turns in an admirable performance as a sheriff trying to bring change to his country. The Australian outback is a beautiful backdrop, and Pearce's gutsy lead performance makes this a must-see, leading a superb cast in a movie that is brutally violent, but entertaining and heartbreaking.
Super Reviewer
½ November 2, 2009
A western with a similar tone and content to "Unforgiven". It's incredibly violent, but also slower paced than most and isn't very action oriented. The cast is great with standout performances from Ray Winstone & Guy Pearce and strong support from John Hurt, Emily Watson, and Danny Huston. This is a bleak and sometimes unsettling film, but one that rewards those that stick with it. The characters aren't cookie cutter and the plot is very unpredictable, giving it a freshness that most westerns of the past few years have lacked. The look and feel of the movie is brown and murky, reflecting the characters and plot well. It never tells you what's right and wrong and lets you choose that for yourself, which I like. The characters also aren't what they initially seem at the beginning, giving it more of that freshness I talked about. This is one of the better westerns of the last decade.
Super Reviewer
January 8, 2010
Probably the best western in the last decade at least and an excellent movie. I was blown away by the beautifully captured outback, it is unlike anything else. I thought the story was familiar to someone who's a fan of the genre, yet it was still highly original in terms of plot. I loved that it spared no expense to show carnage. Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone were perfect and had great characters.
Super Reviewer
March 29, 2007
Ranks among the better modern day westerns.
Super Reviewer
February 20, 2009
"This land will be civilized."

A lawman apprehends a notorious outlaw and gives him 9 days to kill his older brother, or else they'll execute his younger brother.

"The Proposition" is to trade a naive younger brother's life for an older diabolical brother. Faced with this choice, Guy Pearce sets out to kill or trap his older brother whilst his younger brother is held captive in a small town prison. Whilst the police captain seems an honourable man, with uncommon strategic intelligence, the rest of the townsfolk are possessed with a small town, right wing mentality.

Set in 19th Century pioneer outback Australia, there is a quirky richness that draws the viewer in. The landscape's sunset coloured backdrop visually dazzles and elicits a sensory surge. You can feel the heat, you can smell the sweat, you can taste the dust. Nick Cave's sound track complements the uneasy feeling you experience throughout this movie.

The film seems slow to start, but the pace builds not unlike a horse going through its paces. The last few minutes are an exhausting flat out gallop. Looking at the film as a whole, I appreciated the slow context setting and the gradual build up. The acting is first class: I particularly liked the captain. It was enjoyable to see David Wenham play such an unpleasant little man for a change, as his characters are usually so lovable. The violence is rather brutal at times: gasps of shock were elicited at several points in the film.

Not for the sensitive or the typical Hollywood cinema going types.
Super Reviewer
½ December 24, 2008
"I will civilize this land."

Beginning with a bang, The Proposition is as unrelenting as it is mesmerizing. Filmed behind breath-taking Australian scenery, this film tells the story of a law officer (played to perfection by Ray Winstone) in a small Australian town in the early 19th Century who tries to "civilize" his land by rounding up a ruthless gang of brothers known as the "Burns Gang." The only problem is that he can't catch the eldest and completely psychotic sibling: Arthur (played wonderfully by Danny Huston). So the law officer captures the two younger brothers, and gives the middle one, Charlie (played perfectly by Guy Pearce) a proposition: kill his older brother, or his younger brother will be hanged.

From the opening violent beginning scene to the final bloody climax, The Proposition is a beautiful cinematic masterpiece that thrives off the gritty performances of its stars: Winstone, Pearce, and Huston.

This film will challenge you to question your loyalty and your morals. Who really is right and wrong? How far will one go to do the "right thing?"

The Proposition is a beautiful western that, in my opinion, ranks up there with the likes of Unforgiven. Smart, violent, and exhilarating... The Proposition is a powerful piece of art that will challenge you.

"Australia. What fresh hell is this?"
Super Reviewer
½ November 18, 2008
"I will civilize this land"

Nick Caves fine script gives us viewers another great western. Cave's lyrics have always been quite interesting and this film feels at times as an overlengthy poem.

It's slow paced but the fine actors, whom all of 'em do an excellent job, take this film to a higher level than many other westerns. Be warned, the violence in "The Proposition" is very graphic...

I'll give this flick high recommendations!

"What's a misantrope, Arthur?
- Some bugger who fuckin' hates every other bugger"
Super Reviewer
½ May 30, 2006
Captain Stanley: Now, suppose I told you there was a way to save your little brother Mikey from the noose. Suppose I gave you a horse and a gun. Suppose, Mr. Burns, I was to give both you and your young brother Mikey, here, a pardon. Suppose I said that I could give you the chance to expunge the guilt beneath which you so clearly labour. Suppose I gave you till Christmas. Now, suppose you tell me what it is I want from you.
Charlie Burns: You want me to kill me brother.
Captain Stanley: I want you to kill your brother.

A western drama set in Australia that combines grittiness, harsh violence, and complexity in its the characters.

Guy Pearce stars as Charlie Burns, one of three notorious outlaw brothers, who has just been caught, along with the youngest and most innocent brother Mickey, by a police captain, played by Ray Winstone.

The captain gives Charlie an ultimatum; he can save his younger brother's life and be set free if he finds his older brother, Arthur Burns the most vicious of them all and played wonderfully by Danny Huston, and kills him.

Arthur Burns: Why can't you ever just... stop me?

Charlie excepts this offer and makes his way to find his brother. During this time Charlie encounters a bounty hunter, played by John Hurt, as well as an unfortunate encounter with some of the aborigines.

Meanwhile, the other half of the story is dedicated to the police captain, Morris Stanley, who very much wants to tame Australia and make it a civil place to live. In doing this, he makes an effort to keep his deal with the Burns brothers under wraps. The captain's wife, played by Emily Watson, is also around, displeased with outback life and the notion of being involved with the Burns' brothers who previously raped and murdered friends of theirs.

Captain Stanley: Australia. What fresh hell is this?

Scripted by musician Nick Cave (who also provided the score) the film plays much like an alternative western, much like the film Dead Man (another offbeat western directed by Jim Jarmusch). Not much of this film follows a traditional western. The characters are all flawed, some more than others. The brutality is certainly harsh and shown is somewhat graphic detail. It is a dark film indeed.

That being said, its a very well made movie. Using the Australian outback as a setting is a wonderful choice in terms of the film's cinematography. The actors are all in top form, particularly Huston, who adds a strange soul to his ruthless outlaw, despite knowing full well that he is as ruthless as people know him. Its very much an ensemble film as well, making use of all of its characters.

A very good and different kind of western.

Samuel Stote: What's a misanthrope, Arthur?
Two Bob: Some bugger who fuckin' hates every other bugger.
Samuel Stote: Hey, I didn't ask you, you black bastard
Arthur Burns: He's right Samuel. A misanthrope is one who hates humanity.
Samuel Stote: Is that what we are, misanthropes?
Arthur Burns: Good lord no. We're a family.
Super Reviewer
January 5, 2007
A pretty decent western set in Austrailia. A strong cast give good performances but the story/plot line is a bit too simple and predictable. One for western fans, quite violent at times to.
Super Reviewer
February 18, 2007
A remarkable, brutal, poetic and riveting western epic. Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Howard Hawkes would be proud of this film. A teriffic movie. Ray Winstone gives a great and compelling performance. Guy Pearce is teriffic. Danny Huston gives a brutally sly and charming performance. John Hurt is brilliant. Emily Watson is marvelous. A powerful, stunning, dazzeling and unforgettable film. It's totally alive with passion, energy, bloody action and darkness. A Wickedly cool, tremendous and spectacular movie. It's incrediable. A grim adventure into the hearts of violent men. It ranks with classics like Unforgiven. A masterpiece in it's own right.
Super Reviewer
½ August 4, 2006
There were many great performances in this film, however I felt pretty bored throughout until the last ten minutes.
Super Reviewer
February 18, 2007
Average Australian/UK film in the 1880s like 2003's Ned Kelly meets Unforgiven. The international cast of Australian and British are doing fine in their performances.
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