In the outback of 1880s Australia, yet another gunfight between the police and a gang of outlaws leaves carnage in its wake. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are captured by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone). Their psychopathic brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), is hiding somewhere in the bush; all three are wanted for a brutal crime. Stanley makes Charlie a devastating proposition in an attempt to bring an end to the cycle of bloody violence.
Review by Louise Keller:
This is the film Ned Kelly should have been. The Proposition is a superbly crafted, hard-hitting drama about loyalty and conscience. The first thing that struck me about the film is the tone. In his second screenplay, Nick Cave has injected his unique touch with his distinctive music and occasional poetic prose seeping into the subliminal. The music has a hard edge, countered by its Irish lilt. John Hillcoat's non-compromising direction clearly captures the harshness of the times, with its conflicts and discrimination issues.
Even the trees are gnarled in this unrelenting environment. Violence is part of life in remote Australia at the end of the bushranger era, and there is little by way of homely comforts. Yet although Ray Winstone's Captain Stanley gives tough orders in the local jail where he works, his home is like another world. Surrounded by a rose garden, and with the refinement of a very English teacup, his saviour is his English rose wife Martha (Emily Watson). She is his solace, and the juxtaposition of the daily brutality with this elegantly coiffed lady of the house who wears corseted gowns and a prim manner, is almost shocking.
The story assembles piece by piece. The Byrnes boys are a nasty lot. The latest escapade that resulted in the rape and death of a young woman, prompts serious action. After the opening shoot out, Captain poses his proposition to Guy Pearce's Charlie, offering a trade of the life of his young brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) for the life of Arthur (Danny Huston), the group's callous leader.
The Proposition is a fine film. It's tough and never shirks from making its point, while at the same time nurtures delicate emotions. The performances are all extraordinary - in particular Winstone's conflicted Captain, who lets us in to feel his internal agony. Pearce is back at his best too, and David Wenham makes every screen moment count in a small role. This is a haunting and powerful film that creeps up on you and swallows you whole.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Blood, sweat and tears ... and a singular screenplay to bind these primal elements into a coherent and powerful drama, make The Proposition a standout feature from John Hillcoat, who directed the equally gut wrenching, slightly futuristic (and prophetic) prison drama, Ghosts ... Of The Civil Dead, back in 1988.
Nick Cave's script takes us back to the brutal days of Australia as a penal colony, where justice, loyalty and survival clashed with each other on a daily basis. Cave instinctively understands the essential driving power of stories being character, and the filmmaking team make grand use of his writing. Superbly photographed, painstakingly designed (even the buttons for the costumes were specially made to ensure depth of authenticity) and of course wonderfully performed, The Proposition is festival quality filmmaking for a broad audience.
The sense of the penal colony era is evoked with stunning veracity, and the consistent mood of the film is like a haunting, melancholy refrain. John Hillcoat's direction is assured and he recognises the importance of detail - of which there is plenty, both in objects and in support characters - as well as seeing the big picture
Guy Pearce does some of his best work here as the tormented and conflicted brother who is offered the proposition by the conflicted and complex soldier, Captain Stanley, portrayed with a sad sort of power by Ray Winstone. Emily Watson is splendid as Mrs Stanley, a blend of frail femininity out of her social and spiritual depth in the harsh outback, and a woman whose inner strengths ensure her survival. Human strength and weakness are laid bare in this unforgiving landscape, in primitive conditions.
Danny Huston makes the older, psycho brother an enigmatic and edgy character, whose ruthless methods finally turn his younger brother against him in what is the film's vortex of a climax. The Proposition sometimes confronts us with graphic violence, but I for one regard these scenes as essential to the story and the film's intentions. One of those is to examine how people act in desperate circumstances, and another is to authenticate the film's historic context. As we see from the various characters in the film, people are not always noble, but nor are they always venal. This film grasps for understanding, not judgement, with the well digested cinematic tools of the classic old Western.
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GUY PEARCE INTERVIEW
JOHN HILLCOAT & NICK CAVE - interview by Andrew L. Urban
PROPOSITION, THE (MA)
CAST: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, David Wenham, John Hurt, Tom Budge, David Gulpilil, Leah Purcell, Richard Wilson, Tom E. Lewis,
PRODUCER: Chris Brown, Cat Villiers, Chiara Menage, Jackie O'Sullivan
DIRECTOR: John Hillcoat
SCRIPT: Nick Cave
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Benoit Delhomme
EDITOR: Jon Gregory, Ian Seymour
MUSIC: Nick Cave
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Kennedy
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 6, 2005