The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

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The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby wpqx » Wed Jun 14, 2006 9:06 pm

There seem to be two kinds of westerns. Those that evoke the west as a lost time and a simpler life and those that show just how far we've come. The first type use evocative landscapes, beautiful scenery, and make you long to be out in the great wild. The other make you thankful for indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and anything green. John Hillcoat's The Proposition is an extreme case of the second. His vision of the west makes the Australian outback look like the armpit of the world. A land where everything is covered in dirt, there is no grass, no running water, and everyone is in bad need of a shave and a bath. Flies and insencts are visible in every shot, and they hang around the living just as abundantly as corpses.

It's Christmas time, but in the Southern Hemisphere it's in the heat of summer. This desert looks like it never gets cool regardless. This in many ways is an anti Christmas film. One that instead of celebrating the joy of family and a warm fireplace and new fallen snow, its about a warped sense of family, and a dry area where the one rare rainfall produces nothing but puddles full of mud. Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is trying to be a Christian pillar of society. A British man sent to Australia to help control what is essentially a lawless society. He is contrasted by Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), who seems an immoral criminal with no home. The casting helps to separate them further. Winstone being a blond, heavyset man, and Pearce skinny with long dark hair. If it wasn't enough, the Burns brothers are Irish by descent, making them naturally seem enemies to the British Mr. and Mrs. Stanley.

Captain Stanley however isn't too far removed from them, and the longer the film progresses the more we see how he and Charlie are the most similar characters in the story. They each have a sense of justice, and they each realize that Arthur (Danny Huston) is the real criminal and the one that needs to be weeded out of society. Charlie loathes his brother for the bad name he has given all of them, and the horrible example he set not only for himself but also for their younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson). Charlie knows that Mikey is only in jail because of Arthur, and he'll be hanged in exchange. Stanley has a sense of moral responsibility when he resists allowing the simpleton Mikey to be whipped. His punishment is quite excessive being 100 lashes, and as we see, he nearly dies before they even get to 40. Each of these men hate the land that they call their home but there on two different sides of the fence. Not surprising that a white picket fence is used to block off Stanley's home, even though it sits out in the middle of nowhere, with only one scarce tree in the horizon.

Mrs. Stanley (Emily Watson) is the one member of society who doesn't seem to be crawling through troughs of mud. Her character is representational. She is a typical woman in one that is supposed to be virginal and free of sin. She is the most out of place in this society, but she remains clean and free of dirt even when riding into town. The only other person who seems capable of grooming is the town's constable who is too out of touch with the world to really know what's good for it. Both of these characters are lambs and they have no business in this barren and awful wilderness. The only difference is, that the Constable is ruthless and represents the well fed politician eager to make the criminals suffer without paying any heed to the method or mode of punishment. His is a selfish quest, and in his world there is no code of ethics. Captain Stanley fights by rules, and for this there is some level of respect between him and Charlie.

The film and the music were written by Nick Cave and its one of the most desolate westerns yet realized. The film has some wonderful cinematic moments and some great work by its lead actors, most notably Guy Pearce who gets through most of the film with barely a word of dialogue. Although he has a name, he is much more evocative of the quiet anti-heroes of Leone, and you can only hope that he does what's morally right in the end.

Grade B +

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby A » Thu Jun 15, 2006 12:55 pm

I think it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival this year, but I didn't watch it because I thought it might get a wider release. Seems like this is happening.
What caught my attention were some interesting screenshots of the scenery, and the supposedly bleak view the film is taking. Would be interesting to see another australian historical film, so maybe I'll watch this in the future. So far I have only seen one comparable australian film to wpqx's description. Mad Dog Morgan (197 with Dennis Hopper in the lead role. A great film.

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby gratefultiger » Sun Jun 25, 2006 11:47 pm

Try "The Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith" for a real gritty OZ film,
Also "The Boys" & of course "Wake In Fright" (Aka Outback)these 3 films blow Mad Dog Morgan out of the water!
Check Them out,very surprised u haven't seen "Jimmie Blacksmith" it's a bona fide classic. Cheers Chas fom OZ
PS looking forward to seeing The Proposition,even my daughter has so i had better move!

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby wpqx » Mon Jun 26, 2006 12:30 am

Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith has been on my must see list for at least four years now, but its not a particularly easy film to find in the US, as a matter of fact its impossible.

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby A » Tue Jun 27, 2006 11:39 am

Same here in Germany. But I've seen The Boys couple of years ago on TV. Good film, but nothing exceptional (as is Mad Dog Morgan, imo ) I like Toni Collette, and the film is really gritty. Reminded me a bit of my favorite aussie film Romper Stomper

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby arsaib4 » Thu Apr 05, 2007 4:58 am

"The film has some wonderful cinematic moments and some great work by its lead actors, most notably Guy Pearce who gets through most of the film with barely a word of dialogue."

Pearce was good and I'd say that the lack of dialogue had something to do with it. I thought the screenplay overall was rather weak. The peripheral presence of morality contradicted the characters' actions; Cave would've better off eschewing it altogether in this "armpit of the world." While you're right about the characters being symbolistic (after all, The Proposition, like any other recent Western, is "revisionist") they also felt hollow and uninteresting. I was curious about Arthur because the film tried to build him up in the early going, but the result was a miscast Danny Huston and his empty laugh; Winstone might've been better suited for that role. 2005's The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada had an inherintly flawed premise, but it was well-executed by Jones. I'd say that the opposite is true for Hillcoat's film.

Re: The Proposition (2005) - John Hillcoat

Postby wpqx » Thu Apr 05, 2007 5:02 am

I enjoyed it, but wouldn't necessarily force people to watch it, much of the film is hard to watch just because of its bitter nature.

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