Day 300-- the Proposition (2005)

"Australia. What fresh hell is this?"

The Proposition is a very hard film to pigeonhole. It's an Australian-set western, but not in any traditional sense.

Set in the 1880s, the movie focuses on Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce, bleeding silent charisma onto the screen), a wanted criminal. Captured during a brutal gunfight in the beginning of the film, Charlie is offered a proposition by Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone): Charlie is to find and kill his older brother Arthur by Christmas or his younger brother Mikey will be executed.

Charlie cares deeply for his slow-witted younger brother, so accepts Stanley's proposition. The film then pits the notion of justice versus the strength of family ties. Charlie is no innocent; the brothers are infamous for a very brutal reason, as the film slowly reveals. But he left Arthur (Danny Huston in an unforgettable role) for a reason, and you can tell there's quite a bit of conflict happening in Charlie's head throughout the movie.

As Charlie searches for Arthur and his gang, Stanley faces problems in the town he watches over. Stanley and his wife Martha (Emily Watson)--both English displaced to the 'colony'--reek of civility and proper-ness, both traits fading fast in the dusty Australian sun. Though noble in most of his reasons, Stanley crumples under the strain and brutality of the country.

The screenplay--written by Australian songwriter Nick Cave--is wound tighter than a bedspring. All of the major characters are driven by desires that turn out to be lies: Arthur believes that love rules all (while remaining a chilling murderer), Stanley wants to civilize Australia (and ends up letting chaos rule in the town), and so on. The ending is poetic, in a warped way, hinging on the phrase "no more" and showing that one character might, in fact, seek redemption.

John Hillcoat's direction is extraordinary, and the cinematography is so richly bleak that it's beautiful, in a stark way. Sunsets loom over everything, painting the few dying trees on the horizon with sickly orange hues. Flies are omnipresent, buzzing around townspeople and the numerous corpses that pile up over the film's duration.

With that in mind, the film is absolutely brutal. The violence is often unexpected and graphic. In fact, much of this movie makes a grisly western like Unforgiven seem tame in comparison. There are a few scenes that I would be fine with never watching again.

Cave, who has claimed a faith in Christ (a deeply troubled Christian, but I'm not doubting him), might've made an interesting point with the film. Stanley mentions the outback as Godforsaken, and a crazed bounty hunter (played wonderfully by John Hurt) mentions how God abandoned him in this land. Even the constant drone of flies in the background hints at a land without God, a land of violence and pain and hurt. Hell, in other words.

It's hard for me to openly recommend this to anyone--while the acting is incredible, and the soundtrack (by's good enough to purchase on its own) and visuals are haunting, it's a harsh, harsh film. That I may have found it worthwhile in some ways, I realize most won't. The Proposition--in some ways--shows hell, and having seen it I can appreciate the good around me even more.

Trailer for the Proposition.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 7/02/2007 10:16:00 PM,


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