The Proposition Reviews
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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"
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.