By STEPHEN EARNEST / December 7, 2010
Over the past decade or so, there has been a constant revitalization of the Western genre. Something new gets added to the mix, raising the bar. For 2005, it was John Hillcoat’s gritty and nightmarish debut The Proposition, a truly different kind of Western.
The film takes place in the heart of the Australian outback during the late 1800’s, although at first glance, we can’t tell the difference between it or the American Old West. Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) has been forced to relocate from England to the outback to bring law and order to the land. He finds interest in the notorious Burns’ gang, a gang of brothers whom were recently involved in the brutal rape and murder of a local family. Stanley isn’t as concerned with the two younger brothers as he is with the oldest, Arthur (Danny Huston), who is a violent and dangerous sociopath. The younger brothers, Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey (Richard Wilson), are soon captured after a firefight and Stanley makes a deal with Charlie. If Charlie finds and kills his older brother within nine days, then he and Mike will be pardoned and set free. If not, Mike will be hanged on Christmas Day.
There are many things that The Proposition does right. The writer, Nick Cave (who also does the score, but we’ll get to that later), gives each character an unprecedented amount of depth. Charlie does not simply take revenge upon his brother because the story needs him to; he does because he needs to. He sees the kind of man his brother truly is and harbors feelings of resentment towards him for the danger he has but their younger brother Mikey in. But while doing this, Cave also gives us a little bit of Arthur’s perspective to make us see his side of things.
Another thing that Cave does right is by giving each of the characters moral principles. More than often, these characters are put in morality-based scenarios, where they have to decide what is right and what is wrong, even if it goes against instinct.
The director, John Hillcoat, does an adequate job of displaying everything, but in an off-kilter way. He does not follow the rules of the typical Western format; he uses unconventional methods, resulting in a rather unsettling experience. The score by Nick Cave is unique, but it doesn’t suit the tone of the film. There are bits and pieces that are memorable, but for the most part, it’s entirely distracting and even somewhat annoying.
If my senses aren’t failing me, I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed by what The Proposition has to offer. It’s an entertaining tale, and one of the finest Westerns in a long, long while.