The Proposition (2005)

This gritty period piece explores the slavery and colonization of Australia's aboriginal people while hewing to the form of the great western.

By Matthew Van Allen
Published November 23, 2006

Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave

The Proposition

Let's just start by saying that I was contemplating skipping the whole "no late fee" scenario and just keep this bloody (and it is bloody) film. I've eagerly awaited a screening of this film since first finding out that Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave) had his hand in this picture nearly two years ago.

Here it is: after some brief stints at the Toronto rep cinemas and terrible third generation dubs, I give you The Proposition.

Set in the Australian outback in the late 1800's, the film revolves around Captain Stanley's struggle to bring justice to his small town. Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, One of three Outlaw brothers who has been captured and held responsible for an unspeakable act of evil.

While the eldest brother and pact mastermind Arthur Burns is still at large, Charlie's younger brother waits in the hands of the law. Captain Stanley's proposition to Charlie Burns is simple: he has nine days to track down and kill his older brother, or else younger brother Mike will be brutally tortured and executed.

Like most great westerns, the Proposition is filled with incredible imagery and poetic landscape. It tackles many themes such as morality, redemption and sacrifice. It has its main gunslinger and yes, he does "get on his horse and ride".

However, the film goes a step further and veers off the regular trail. The viewer is brought to stumble through a brief history of Australia, specifically the slavery and colonization of its Aboriginal people.

The film is incredibly tense and gritty yet manages to be genuinely truthful. The heroes are not at all heroic, and the villains - well, the villains are still villainous.

At times this picture feels a touch reminiscent of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (aka Apocalypse Now) and at others like we've been dragged through Rob Zombie's Devil's Rejects. Rest assured, though: The Proposition does have a head of its own.

It's already considered to be one of the most important period dramas made in Australia and surprisingly one of Australia's first westerns. Each character is crafted skillfully, and composer Warren Ellis's (Dirty Three, Bad Seeds) violin ballads are beautifully haunting.

Hands down to all the actors who deliver an unforgettable performance: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, John Hurt, and Danny Houston are all at top notch.

To see or not to see: See it! For any one of you out there who thinks Nick Cave may have lost his balls, I challenge you to watch this picture.

Matthew is the RTH film and culture critic. He runs The In Between: Moving Pictures and Culture, which you can find inside Sky Dragon at 27 King William Street.


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