MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Western/ Stars: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, David Wenham, Richard Wilson, John Hurt, Tom E. Lewis, Leah Purcell, Tom Budge, Robert Morgan, David Gulpilil, Noah Taylor, Oliver Ackland/ Runtime: 104 minutes
To start this review off, I propose the following proposition to the world of movie magic: construct a unique Western that audiences haven’t seen and you might get praised for its originality. Thankfully for the creative partnership of film writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat, that is one deal they managed to live to up with their movie The Proposition. Indeed here is, for your viewing “pleasure” a very draining and quite wicked, from a visual perspective, movie that eschews the typical genre trappings and trades them in for a ruthless, uncompromising attitude that is both riveting and heart-wrenching in equal measure. Indeed very much a movie where the mental anguish is way more painful than a bullet to the gut could ever be, The Proposition presents us with a narrative that has no protagonists or antagonists. Rather it simply has a group of people who are all, in one way or another, truly flawed and it is through what they do in this film that seems to make the lives of every person around them, including their own, even if the little voice inside them attempts to justify why they are doing these things. Thus I think it is safe to say that this film is the dictionary definition of a tragedy. By that I mean this is a movie where none of the characters emerges completely unscathed; rather they all endure some kind of anguish for what they have done and who they associate with. Thus this is a movie which is also a ruthless yet honest analysis of a world that is slowly, but surely going out of control and, despite not being perhaps a movie that traditional fans of this genre might be accustomed to, The Proposition is nevertheless a well-acted and constructed under-the-radar gem in this time-honored genre that, despite being a truly heart-wrenching viewing experience, is one that surely will stay with you for a long, long time…
The plot is as follows: The Proposition takes us back to the Outback in the Land Down Under in the year 1880 where we follow a pair of brothers by the name of Charlie and Mikey Burns after they have been captured following a brutal shootout with a Captain Stanley. Yet even though they are meant to be killed for the things that they have done, Captain Stanley has other ideas. Ideas that take the form of offering Charlie a proposition: if he chooses to hunt down and kill his other brother Arthur and does it and brings back proof within 9 days then he and Mikey are free and in the clear. Should he fail in this task however, Mikey will be strung up the neck until he’s dead on Christmas Day. Seeing no other options, and kind of wanting to have a living younger brother on his Christmas wish list that year, Charlie accepts Stanley’s offer and leaves Mikey in the middle of a town that has been baying for blood on these brothers. The reason being that Arthur has been accused of the horrific massacre of a family in town and in this world every crime warrants sufficient retribution as payment. Finding himself in the middle of all this mayhem is Stanley who is legitimately torn between doing his job and actually making the world around him better all whilst keeping his lovely wife Martha, who was friends with people of the recently butchered clan, safe from the knowledge of the deal he made. However when word leaks of the proposition between the 2 men at the heart of our story, the majority of the town begins requesting their proverbial pound of flesh…even if it should come from brutally beating Mikey; what follows therefore is a ruthless look at what happens when the ideals of justice, anger, and revenge all find a way to go horrifically and terribly wrong.
Now no matter how you choose to look at it, The Proposition is a fantastically-made movie. Indeed from the direction, the stellar cast, the thought-provoking concepts, the phenomenal narrative structure, or just the potent sense of drama and pathos on display, the movie is simply wonderful at conjuring up a riveting film that is wonderful at being downright gritty and/or nasty. Indeed, this is a film that will you leave absolutely emotionally drained by the end of it as well as trying desperately to turn your back on, but know that it is impossible to do so. Indeed the director of this film, one Mr. John Hillcoat, manages to prove himself a fantastic helmer of film through the work he does on this. Indeed not only does he possess an immaculate style visually, but he also manages to thread together a pitch-black, unnerving, and often quite terrifying film with a high degree of clarity and never once feels he has to do what others have done to make his film work. Rather he permits the film’s narrative and core concepts to build the wicked, rotten to the core, and ruminating vibe for him and the audience. Suffice it to say that it’s a method that works fabulously even as the aforementioned ingredients clash in the best way with the film’s bright and sunny locales and beautifully-caught exterior shots. Indeed he, with the aid of the film’s writer, manage to set the tranquility of the world when it is quiet up against the ruthless and despicableness that man brings to everything it touches in a manner that, with few if any exceptions, has ever been done in a movie before.
Now The Proposition may be ruthless in regards to the violence on screen, but to the film’s credit, it only occurs in tiny bursts. Instead this film is more of an in-depth analysis into how complex its cast of characters is. Indeed many of them manage to be both good and evil to a degree and it is that balance which helps make this film work on the level it does. Indeed make no mistake: this movie does get as bloody as quite a few films in the Western genre, but more than however there is, buried among that violence, is a surreal kind of vibe that really aids the viewer in watching the film from a detached point of view in order to ensure that they are not overrun by the disturbing things that occur. Despite these good intentions however, there just seems to be no way for the audience to truly get away from the horrendous atrocities that can and do manage to enter into the world that the film presents us with despite beautiful scenery and that dream-like vibe at moments. Indeed this is one film that seems full of compare/contrast moments be it the gorgeous landscape that turns into a bloody combat zone for erroneous systems of belief and rancor-laden spite or between the in-desperate need of a shave and/or bath local denizens and the well-groomed wife of Captain Stanley. Yet it is near the very end of the film that we witness one of the worst in the form of a pair of characters finding that Christmas is not the reprieve from all the horrors that they were hoping with all if their heart that it would be; a moment that also leads to one of if not the most intense sequence in the movie. Suffice it to say then that in this film, there truly is no getting away from the insanity, anarchy, rancor, and buckets of blood no matter how much you, and some of the characters, pray to be free from it and it is that unnerving and emotionally draining method that really enables the film to succeed on the level that it does.
Now this cast may be quite the mixed bag of performers, but astonishingly none of them manage to give a legitimately bad turn in this film. Yet if I had to name the character that is far and away better than all the rest it would have to be Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley. Indeed Winstone manages to completely walk away with what is both perhaps the most wonderful performance as well as the most intriguing character in the narrative. Indeed Winstone does wonderful not only portraying a man who adorns his body with every with choice he makes, but also permits us to see just how this country has worn the man down. We also get wonderful work from Emily Watson as his wife. Indeed she might seem simple upon first glance, but by the end of the film she will know first-hand just what it is her husband has been trying in vain to shield her from. We also get good work in, what could be considered the lead role, from Pearce as he manages to inject his part and arc within the film with a degree of subtlety. Now even though Danny Huston manages to do a wonderful job with character, I do feel that the film does not utilize his performance as well as it ought to. Also as the youngest brother, Richard Wilson manages to convincingly play a young man who simply cannot see or comprehend the magnitude of what is being done around him and because of him and there is at least one scene of his which I promise will be difficult for you to watch. Finally we also get dependably wonderful work from beloved actor John Hurt who makes quality work of his small role of a slightly off his rocker bounty hunter who comes into conflict with the brothers a couple of times and each time doesn’t really walk away looking like a bed of roses. Indeed in a film that is set in a desolate and unforgiving landscape, you need a cast of characters that can offer a hint of the spectrum of humanity and this is one cast that manages to deliver just that.
All in all it should be said that The Proposition is a masterfully crafted movie in every way, and a fantastic addition to the Western genre to boot even if it manages to be a stark departure from not only other genre-style films, but also those films that, from John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, have come to be the pillars of this time-honored genre. Suffice it to say that there honestly has not been a film of a brutal nature quite like this one from either a pathos or visual point of view. Not only that, but the film also manages to further set itself apart by giving off a dream-like vibe to the vast majority of its moments of both visual and music respectively. Indeed this is one film that cares just as much with style as it is with its narrative and this duo manages to work together in wonderful synchronicity in order to give the film a scope that is epic in nature whilst also conjuring up a film that is both emotional as well as graphically violent. Indeed it’s a blend that works true wonders thus ensuring that this film becomes a right-off-the-bat gem that most assuredly deserves to be talked about the fantastic Westerns of the past, the present, and the future as well. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Proposition a solid 4 out of 5.