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  Proposition, The A Losing Battle
Year: 2005
Director: John Hillcoat
Stars: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, Richard Wilson, Tom Budge, Noah Taylor, Robert Morgan, John Hurt, David Gulpilil, Leah Purcell, Mick Roughan, David Wenham, Shane Watt, Ralph Cotterill, David Vallon, Garry Waddell, Iain Gardiner
Genre: Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: The Australian Outback in the late nineteenth century, nearing Christmastime. After a violent shootout, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) manages to capture two of the outlaw Burns brothers, the older Charlie (Guy Pearce) and youngest Mike (Richard Wilson); he has a proposition for them, or specifically Charlie. As Arthur (Danny Huston), the leader of their gang, a gang who has raped and murdered a pregnant woman, is still on the loose, Stanley tells him the captured brothers will receive a reprieve providing Charlie can find Arthur for him. If Charlie fails, then Mike will be hanged at Christmas, and to succeed, he must kill his own eldest brother. Accepting the challenge, Charlie rides off - but is blood thicker than water?

With a welcome feel of the Australian New Wave cinema of the nineteen seventies with the very strangeness of the continent to the fore, both in landscape and atmosphere, The Proposition marked the second film script of musician Nick Cave. If you've read his novel "And the Ass Saw the Angel" you'll already have some idea of the austere, unforgiving nature of Cave's narratives, and true enough the characters here are largely violent men who either embrace the darker side of their natures, or are nobly trying to rise above them.

Representing civilisation is Stanley's wife Martha (a delicate Emily Watson), the sophisticated ideal to which her husband aspires: he means to tame not only the criminals but the country as well, but, and you can see where this is going from the beginning, he's going to be disappointed. He has to keep the gory details of his work from her to preserve her composure, yet she's clearly a fish out of water and when she finally does find out the obscene act the Burns brothers have committed it has a detrimental effect on her wellbeing, not just fainting at a flogging but going ever so slightly mad as well.

Significantly we don't witness the crime the Burns brothers are being sought for, meaning we tend to have more sympathy with Charlie as he goes on his reluctant quest. On the way he meets bounty hunter John Hurt in a bar, and the overall muted ambience is sparked into life by his brief appearance as he attempts to talk his way into catching not only Arthur but Charlie too. Alas, Hurt disappears pretty quickly, only re-emerging near the end, as Charlie tracks down Arthur and gang solo, getting a spear through his shoulder for his trouble.

When the two brothers finally meet again, we wonder if Charlie will carry out his onerous task, and which way the bonds between family will push him. This theme is carried over into nationalism and race as well, with the Irish set against the English and the whites against the Aborigines, which could put Cave on provocative ground, but he pulls away from fully investigating the social aspects of his story, preferring to leave them as background colour. In truth, The Proposition can't quite disguise the fact that for long periods nothing much is happening, and low key acting - Winstone being the very model of suppressed frustration - sets the scene for dread without adding much excitement. It's a good looking film, sure, but for all the overpowering heat of its setting it's an emotionally chilly one. Music by Cave and Warren Ellis.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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