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REVIEW: The Proposition

By Wayne Francis
Jacksonville, Florida



R for strong grisly violence and naughty language

Guy Pierce, Ray Winstone, Richard Wilson, Danny Huston,
Emily Watson, John Hurt, David Wenham, Tom Budge

John Hillcoat


Nick Cave

One hour, 44 minutes

First Look


The Proposition Trailer

The Proposition will gallop in under the radar of American audiences, and this is a shame. It’s a tremendous film—one of the year’s best—and surely would have been appreciated more had it been situated among a different batch of currently released movies. Written by Aussie musician Nick Cave (who also does an amazing job of scoring the film), and directed by John Hillcoat, this film adds a grim, nihilistic dimension to the classic Western genre.


19th century Australia closely resembles the American West; there are white settlers, natives (exchange Aborigines for Indians) small towns, and gun-totin outlaws. We’re first introduced to outlaws “The Burns Brothers” during a whorehouse shootout where Charlie Burns (Guy Pierce, Memento, The Time Machine), and Mike Burns (Richard Wilson) are captured by Police Captain Stanley (Ray Winston, Cold Mountain, King Arthur).

Captain Stanley, though, wants their older, more infamous brother Arthur Burns (Danny Huston, The Constant Gardener) for his part in the “The Hopkins Outrage,” a massacre of settlers in which the three brothers raped and killed a pregnant woman. Arthur lives in the hills, well-defended and supported by his small clan, so Captain Stanley coerces Charlie to find Arthur, betray and kill him, and deliver his corpse to the Captain before young Mikey is hanged on Christmas Day. Charlie agrees, and during his absence, townspeople publicly flog the hell out of the young brother, nearly killing him and causing further complications in the aforementioned proposition.

Outside some atmospheric similarities, the film shares as much in common with bleak, nihilistic dramas as it does classic Western frontier tales; think Unforgiven meets Seven. When a bounty hunter with a knack for the poetic recites Darwin’s thesis as if it were comical rubbish, it’s hard not to see him in ironic terms, considering how closely aligned these characters are with an uncivilized animal kingdom where “law” is replaced with a form of mob justice that functions only to satiate the thirst for revenge.

When an aborigine kills a white settler in response to a previous aborigine murder, a settler remarks that the natives kill one settler for every one murder of the native people. Instead of ordering a halt to violence against the natives which would prevent white settlers from violence, a lawman suggests that the solution is to find and kill more aborigines.

Hillcoat doesn’t dwell on the gore; it’s just a medium required to tell such a story. A genuine demonstration of the darker side of Western frontier expansion naturally includes graphic violence of the sort. The film borrows from Western pioneer tales and from revenge stories—I’m reminded of Kill Bill and Munich—though it refuses to cradle our desire to see characters in easily detectable hero and villain classification.

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