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The Proposition (2005)

  Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Nick Cave
Starring: Danny Huston, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, Richard Wilson, Ray Winstone
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Links: The Proposition on the IMDb
Genre: Drama
Awards: AFI Awards: Best Film 2005 (nominee)

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"A unique vision, realistically portrayed" - a review by pearly

Nick Cave is quite a writer. Mostly, he writes song lyrics, which have transported me to some weird and wonderful places over the years. Sometimes, he lends his hand to a novel, and the results there are quite fascinating also. This is, though, the first time that he has written a screenplay. And, as it turns out, it's just the kind of screenplay you'd expect Nick Cave to have written.

Set in the harsh Australian outback at the beginning of the colonisation of the country, it's the story of the Burns' brothers. Arthur (Danny Huston), the eldest brother, is the bad sheep. He is wanted by the local law enforcement, namely Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) and the Mayor (David Wenham). But Stanley can't manage to capture Arthur, and when he instead finds himself to have captured middle brother Charlie (Guy Pearce), and youngest Mike (Richard Wilson), he puts a deal (a proposition, if you will) to Charlie: find and kill Arthur by Christmas Day, or Mike will be hanged by the neck.

The Proposition is definitely a dark story, but this did not bother me in the slightest; to me, it would have betrayed its origins if the violence were dumbed down in any way. As well as this, I found that most of the violence was actually just implied, with a few "money shots" which showed the effects. Perhaps it was because this was so effective that people in the theatre where I saw the film were so openly shocked.

If you can get past this side of the film, you are bound to see the worth of the film. It is a very down to earth telling of the kind of tale that must have been common in these times, though I can't recall another film tackling this period in Australia's history in this fashion: the style of the film is like a Western, which fits the era quite well. The rugged landscape and the olden days sets, along with the costuming, particularly of the "less civilised" of the cast, really fit this theme as well.

Aside from the brilliant script, and the way in which director John Hillcoat chose to portray it, the success of The Proposition can be directly linked back to its superb ensemble cast. Pearce and Huston play off each other well as the brothers who don't always see eye to eye, and Winstone is brilliant, though I always find the distant relationships between husbands and wives of this sort of time period difficult to understand, and his here, with Martha (Emily Watson) puzzled me, but this is not at all a failure in their skills, but rather a kind of disbelief that people acted in such a manner.

The absolute stand-out though, was John Hurt, who played a strange old man that Charlie came across on his wanderings trying to find Arthur. Hurt was completely brilliant, and in his four or five scenes, he totally stole the film, making the otherwise perfectly capable Pearce, with whom he shared the majority of his scenes, appear as the most boring actor on Earth. Hurt is truly a magnificent actor.

The last thing to mention is that not only did Nick Cave write the film, but he also, of course, did the music. Collaborating with Warren Ellis of The Dirty Three, their music perfectly suited the film. I found it to be a little repetitive (with track titles including #1, #2, #3 and so on), but this was forgiveable, as the music really did suit the action, and added just a little to the experience.

The Proposition is uniquely Australian, and it's great to see an Australian story told in such a big and bold way. It's rough, dirty, and unabashed. Onto your next venture, Cave, and I'll be there.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 10 Oct 2005

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Reader comments

  1. I have just seen this movie and it evoked many emotions and sketched many fundamentals of the human condition so very well. The incredible harshness yet beauty of the Australian Bush which I have experienced are articulated visually so very well. Equally well wrought is the social injustice rampant in the 19th century particularly so with the indigenous population and the way they were "put down" if any clash with white colonial ventures occurred..inevitably with a massacre.

    The tragic fatalistic bloodymindedness of the Irish was also crafted well with the harsh alien environment in which the characters conversed.

    This movie gives sorely needed new direction to the 'western' in a way which far surpasses conventional hollywood's 'good guy versus bad guy' populist formula dumbdowned for the masses formula for premium box office profits...and of course Nick Cave's music score just shows what can be acheived if one is not satisfied by the 'soma'hollywood run of the mill effort in this department!

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Dave from Bowen on Sat 31 Dec 2005 22:22 #

  2. I have just seen this movie and it seems biblical. It certainly improves upon the misanthropy of Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"; the bad guys even define 'misanthropy'! . . . The Christian Triune God's name is not blasphemed. Darwin, drenched in irony, is given his due. Themes of mercy, grace and redemption are strong. Australia was basically started and ruled by protestants; the Irish (Catholic) brothers and their Irish pal are doomed from the opening shootout.
    The still photos at the end of the native Australians show high contrast: slavery to freedom, but not without its price. The theater in Atlanta is to be commended for perfect presentation, even to cutting the film after the final credits so viewers don't have the jarring blast of sound over the tail of celluloid.

    Rating given: 8

    A comment from Paul Gruendler on Tue 30 May 2006 13:30 #

  3. I thought this movie was fantastic. There is a lot of violence - probably more than necessary but hey, thats what it was like back then. The music used was wonderful and there are a lot of beautiful scenery shots. Its very realistic (ie flies EVERYWHERE).
    Overall i think it was really well done with a lot of good performances and music. A fine Australian film!

    Rating given: 9

    A comment from Anna on Thu 27 Jul 2006 00:34 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 8.67 (3 ratings)

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