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The Proposition is the work of many years' effort by...”


written by PixieOfDoom on 13/03/2006

The Proposition is the work of many years' effort by director John Hillcoat to make an Australian western. He asked Nick Cave to score the film long ago, but having failed to find a suitable script, later came back to the musician and asked him to write the screenplay as well. Cave rose to the challenge, producing a script that reads like a track off his sublime Murder Ballads album that is extremely brutal, and representing the harsh reality of the Australian outback in the nineteenth century.

The plot is thus: Ray Winstone's Captain Stanley offers Guy Pearce's Charlie Burns a deal - that he find his brother, gang leader Arthur Burns, and kill him, or Stanley will execute Charlie's dim younger brother Mike for the rape of a woman and the murder of her and her family. Charlie then has to find a way to decide which of his brothers should die.

There are no heroes in this film, as Cave has said he wanted it to reflect the realities of Australian life, and that the Australians are fully aware of the darkness of much of their history. The "civilising" British are brutal and violent towards the aboriginals, the outlaws and the aboriginals are violent and murderous to anyone who cross their paths. Stanley is caught in the middle, as he desperately wants to fulfil his duty to capture the Burns gang, and he is living almost a double life, wherein he is one of the dirty, violent law-bringers who has to kill to keep the peace, but he is trying desperately to maintain his civility by keeping his wife, played by Emily Watson, away from his job. She, however, wants to understand what he does and the full brutality of her new home, although when she does invade her husband's space she finds it nearly destroys her.

Even the villains, described by the British officials as nearly animalistic are more complex. Arthur Burns takes pleasure in sunsets, nature and in poetry, but he has no conscience when taking revenge on those who have wronged his brothers, or in taking what he needs from whomever crosses his path. John Hurt's bounty hunter, while providing some comic relief, walks the line best - he admits to his nature, doing bad things for a worthy cause, but ultimately is no better than the men he hunts for money.

There is no moment where the brutality of this film lets up, and there are no happy endings or even just desserts. This is simply a shocking portrait of the harshness of what an uncivilised country can do to a civilised people.

Cave has written and scored an intensely brilliant film which was turned into a stark cinematic masterpiece, which is wonderfully acted by Pearce, Winstone, Watson and the rest of the cast.

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