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Paul Greenwood

Published March 10th, 2006 | by Paul Greenwood

The Proposition Review

Classification: 18 Director: John Hillcoat Rating: 3/5

There are echoes of the Ned Kelly legend in this vivid bushranger western from the pen of Nick Cave. Lawman Captain Stanley (Winstone) has captured two of the notorious Burns brothers, Charlie (Pearce) and Mike (Wilson). But the gang leader, the vicious and ruthless Arthur (Huston) is the one he really wants. To facilitate this, he makes a very simple proposition to Charlie – bring me Arthur or I hang Mike. Charlie heads into the bush to track his brother down and make his decision, facing run-ins with Hurt’s bounty hunter along the way.

Stanley meanwhile, intent on creating as refined a life as possible for himself and his wife (Watson), is having difficulties reconciling the harsh realities of colonial life with his desire to civilise the place. He’s a man genuinely on the side of the law, someone willing to use brutal methods to achieve an end, but not necessarily having the stomach to see it all the way through.

Unquenchingly vicious, you know a film is violent when you can hear the blood. But herein lies the problem – in his determination to try and make us smell the blood, sweat and shit in every frame and to make his actors as enigmatic as possible, Hillcoat is covering for the inadequacies in Cave’s screenplay. No doubting the film is a thing of beauty, as purple sunsets and epic compositions grace almost every scene, but the heavily portentous nature of these shots threaten to tip the film over into accusations of style over substance, even if does thankfully stop just short of fractured Nic Roeg mysticism.

The pivotal characters are thinly sketched and, because we join the action so late in the game, we have no idea how Charlie actually feels about Arthur – how do we know he wouldn’t give him up in second to save Mike? Bearded and gaunt, Pearce strides through the picture like Eastwood’s ghost, but Huston is far too urbane ever to convince as an outback Keyser Soze. The only truly rounded characters are Winstone and Watson, and the film becomes more and more about their plight when we should be steeped in the anguish of Charlie’s Choice.

Cave also scores, so you better believe the music is going to be good. He wisely resists the temptation to go all Morricone, instead keeping it eerie, lilting and sad. Curiously, even though events drag towards the end of the second act, the resolution is too neat and Hurt overplays horribly, I’m beginning to realise that while I’ve been picking through a list of faults, The Proposition is really a very watchable film. There are big themes being pondered – loyalty, betrayal, duty – and many powerful moments, but there’s an overall feeling of dissatisfaction. A little more meat on its bones and it could have been a cracker.

The Proposition Related Articles:

John Hillcoat: Bushranging Without a Jacket


Guy Pearce Interview


Nick Cave and John Hillcoat Interview


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