The Proposition (2005) / Western-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong grisly violence, depictions of rape, and language
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, Richard Wilson, Tom Budge, David Wenham, John Hurt, David Gulpilil, Robert Morgan
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenplay: Nick Cave

The Burns gang are a band of brothers who are wanted for the brutal rape and murder of a pregnant woman, done in a horrific enough fashion as to warrant their immediate death sentence.  After a shootout with the authorities, two of the Burns brothers are captured, middle brother Charlie (Pearce, The Hard Word) and the youngest, Mikey (Wilson, Deck Dogz).  Police captain Stanley (Winstone, King Arthur) lets Charlie go on acceptance of a proposition, with the condition that he kill the one he feels responsible for the despicable deed, Arthur Burns (Huston, Birth).  Fulfillment of the deal means immunity for Charlie and Mikey, but if he doesn't come through, Mikey will be hanged.

It's the second film written by Australian rocker Nick Cave (Ghosts of the Civil Dead), collaborating once again with music video director John Hillcoat (To Have and To Hold), crafting a Western reminiscent of the bloody retribution films by Clint Eastwood, such as High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven.  While not really on that level in terms of semi-allegorical qualities, the results here are far more disturbing, with some very dark subject matter that might be too graphic for some viewers not accustomed to such fare. 

The Proposition did open to some critical acclaim in its native Australia, and while competently created, with particularly strong performances all around, this is familiar territory for Western fans, with only the harrowing violence and Aussie setting to distinguish it from some of the other modern Westerns to come out in the US in the last few decades.  It's a very bleak drama, full of ambiguous characters and disturbing turns of events, but done with exceptional finesse.  Most of the honors for the film come in terms of the high-quality cinematography and very realistic costume work, in addition to the haunting scoring done by Nick Cave himself, along with band-mate Warren Ellis.

The Proposition is a somber and pessimistic story, containing some vividly memorable moments of sadism and despair that manage to provide just the right jolt to keep audiences uneasy in their feelings toward any of these characters.  There are no good guys or bad guys, just varying shades of gray, and while this does make for interesting characterizations, ultimately, Eastwood was able to cover much of the same ground in a more absorbing and focused fashion. 

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo