Lawyer Hannibal Thurman (Robert Loggia) has been given the last will and testament of his richest client, Arthur Barret (William Hurt), who has recently passed away, but contained within were instructions to see a Boston priest, Father Michael McKinnon (Kenneth Branagh), who it says will explain all. However, when Thurman goes to his parish and asks about his connection to Barret, McKinnon is reluctant to say much other than to thank him for letting him know, but the lawyer presses him and is invited to take a pew in the church while the priest expounds at great length as to what the story was behind his history with the Barrets...
Now, when you get a character called Hannibal in a movie made in the nineteen-nineties who isn't cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr Lector from The Silence of the Lambs, you begin to question the sense of a film from the start, and you would be absolutely right to do so here. Coming across as if screenwriter Rick Ramage had happy memories of watching TV miniseries The Thorn Birds and felt it a great inspiration, but also felt it didn't go far enough, The Proposition didn't make much of a mark at the time yet has gone on to find a cult following among those who found its frankly ludicrous melodrama the ideal tonic in a world where such anguished romance was being brushed aside to a large degree.
But anguished romance will never go out of fashion, in spite of the best efforts of works like The Proposition which was definitely not to be confused with the Australian Western made a few years later, though they did both boast impressive casts. Overqualified in this case, and even so they could do little to enliven the stodgy, overwritten dialogue and plot twists that were more likely to elicit rolls of the eyes than a full investment in the characters' dilemmas. This was best suited to the daytime soap opera market in the United States than it was the big screen, though director Lesli Linka Glatter lent the proceedings a sheen of heritage cinema class that immediately fell apart when the details of the story became apparent.
Imagine if Ismail Merchant and James Ivory had taken leave of their senses and decided to heck with your E.M. Forster, what we really wanted to adapt was Sidney Sheldon, and you'd have some idea of what watching this was like. Check out the main thrust of that plot: back in 1935, the Barrets were having trouble conceiving a child, so Arthur's wife Eleanor (Madeleine Stowe, as with her fellow principals too old for her role) decides if her hubby cannot give her a baby, she will turn to that solid hunk of manflesh Neil Patrick Harris to provide for her. Why him? Apparently Hannibal conducted a survey and found the brainiest students around, and after some persuasion Neil agreed, leading to supposedly comic scenes where the shy virgin is introduced to the ways of woman by Eleanor, which as you can imagine are just weird.
If there is any laughter here, it was because of the yawning chasm between what the film thought was classy melodrama and the actual results, which were more often than not preposterous as they threw in a spot of murder and even more adultery, this time involving Branagh's embarrassed-looking priest character (revealed as Barret’s nephew!) who you imagine was written as a strapping Liam Neeson type, only Branagh was more like a constipated geography lecturer who somehow had mixed up his vocations along the way. Mind you, he was Chris Hemsworth compared to Hurt, who was so unengaged with his role that Eleanor's claims she was divided in her feelings between the possible Nazi millionaire and the lowly priest were hard to believe, and that's putting it mildly. You either went along with this nonsense and set aside all reservations for a lovey-dovey indulgence with a strain of hand to the forehead tragedy, or you watched it for the belly laughs such images as a horrified Stowe tumbling into an open grave could invoke: subtle it was not. They didn't even wrap it up to any satisfaction either, and Stephen Endelman's music must have taken five minutes to write as it was the same theme repeated to futile degrees.
[No extras on the Simply Media DVD, but sound and image are fine.]