Director: John Hillcoat
Screenwriter: Nick Cave
Producers: Cat Villiers, Chiara Menage, Chris Brown, Jackie O'Sullivan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, David Wenham, Emily Watson
Australia/United Kingdom, 2005, 104 min.
*Nick Cave, the iconic Australian musician, marks his debut as a solo screenwriter with an intense, superbly crafted Australian western and journey through the mythology of the bush frontier. The Burns brothers' gang - Arthur, Charlie, and 14 year-old Mikey - are allegedly responsible for the savage rape and murder of a settler family. After capturing two of them, British trooper Captain Stanley offers Charlie a proposition: young Mikey will hang on Christmas day unless Charlie finds and kills Arthur, his older brother and leader of the gang. What follows is a mythic exploration of colonization, racism, rituals of violence, and familial bonds in this compelling, and at times astonishly violent, story that re-energizes the genre.
The Proposition boasts full-bore performances by Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone. Pearce gives Charlie a stillness and grave introspection overlaid with feral cunning, while Winstone, as Stanley, rumbles with a tempered intensity as only he can. Equally impressive is the wild barrenness of the terrain; with its shimmering heat, flies, dust, and dead trees against a vast, empty sky, it becomes an integral character in itself. Despite its savagery, The Proposition is a superbly poetic and original film, showcasing the immense talents of director John Hillcoat in a graphic, haunting story of brotherly love, betrayal and redemption, and the consequences of violence.
*Summary by Trevor Groth, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
I had very high expectations for this film as it combines some of my favorite themes, locations, and actors. A gritty and realistic revenge tale set in the Australian outback, The Proposition boasts big performances from Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and John Hurt. I didn't think all the elements in the film came together as smoothly as it could have. And though I understand the point of the excessive violence in this film, it still pulled me out of the film. The killings and torture in this film were just too gross and extreme. However, it you have a desire to see heads blown apart like watermelons, faces smashed to pieces, and a scourging scene right out of Passion of the Christ, this is your film. I do like how the violence was tied into the redemption of Guy Pearce's character, Charlie, but I just couldn't get those bloody images out of my head. Maybe I just have a low tolerance for that kind of brutality.
The pace of the film is surprisingly slow and lyrical. The director uses the arid and beautifully-colored Australian landscape to explore the ragged mindset of Charlie and his brothers with very little dialogue. It is an interesting decision to make a bloody revenge tale so expansive and visual. Charlie's journey is told almost entirely visually, which puts a lot of pressure on Guy Pearce to communicate Charlie's character. For the most part, he succeeds, but in some of the early sections of the film, the pace gets a bit too slow and my attention wandered a bit. However, this leisurely and quiet pace makes the violent scenes all the more explosive and horrifying. There were a couple visuals in the film that are so unique, I can still recall them. The scourging scene I mentioned earlier takes place in a public street in front of all the town residents. The people are all silent, staring at the victim, listening to his screams, when the dust and the wind picks up. The wind blows this thick layer of dirt and flies over the backs of all the people. They don't react to the flies, but they are so thick on some of the people's back, it looks like another layer of clothing. Though it is a wrenching scene, the blanket of flies lends the scene a certain beauty, establishing that the flies are eating off of the living, and not on the bare-chested victim being whipped to death.
The acting was exceptional, especially by Ray Winstone and Guy Pearce. David Wenham also offered up and interesting and devious twist upon his previous good-guy roles. I would have liked to see more scenes with his character. I didn't much care for Emily Watson's character; I didn't feel that she was an interesting enough character for so much screen time to be spent on her predicaments. I also liked the small note at the beginning that credits and respects the Aborigines actors in the film. For a subjugated and 'invisible' race, it is nice to see a film take a second to recognize their presence. The Proposition is a dark and morbid story about the consequences of extreme violence shot in one of the most starkly beautiful locations on the Earth. I wanted more, with a faster pace and a more thorough exploration of Charlie and Ray Winstone's character, Stanley, through dialogue and violence that isn't so creative in its depravity.