It's been a while since I've seen a western. When I first saw the trailer for this film I was fairly intrigued, I mean, guns, horses, English and Irish accents, dirt, where could you go wrong? Hell, it's even written by Nick Cave. The problem with westerns today is that they have a lot going against them to begin with, most people have made their mind up about the genre, they've already got their favorites and they know a bit too much about that period in time so whenever anything questionable comes up, they call bullshit and the rest of the film is marred by the lack of historical credibility in the seasoned viewer's eyes. I've got my select favorites and I've got a small morsel of knowledge regarding the 1800's, guns, horses, and the rest of it, but I can often suspend disbelief for a story to be told. Thing is, you don't really need to do that for The Propostion, Cave and the rest appear to have done their homework and the end result is as tough as a fifty-cent pack mule (I tried).
Taking place in the Australian outback in the 1880s, The Proposition tells the story of the Burns brothers, a group of ruthless Irishmen awash in the lawless expanse of the Australian countryside. The Burns boys have been pinned for the barbaric rape and killing of an entire family and the British Colonial Army regiment led by Captain Stanley (played by Ray Winstone) that already has its hands full with the awful duty of "dealing" with the aboriginal settlers in the outback, is determined to bring them to justice. Having captured two of the brothers, the gaunt, yet strong Charlie (Guy Pearce), and the fourteen year-old baby brother Mikey (Richard Wilson), Captain Stanley makes a difficult deal with Charlie: he has nine days to kill his older brother, who appears to be the leader, Arthur and bring back his body or else Danny gets to meet his maker. Arthur (Danny Huston) is somewhere in the outback and all Charlie has to track him down is a gun and a horse.
The line between good guy and bad guy in this film is extremely blurred, which makes the film an engaging back and forth contest for the viewer's allegiance, so to speak. Captain Stanley's methods of justice are short and vicious, just like the demeanor of the entire Burns lot. Cave focuses both on Charlie's journey to find his brother and his difficult task, and Stanley's struggle to do his job while trying to be a good husband and overall, a human being. After long days of busting heads and essentially ethnically cleansing the outback, Stanley goes home to his wife Martha, who is his only respite from his unsavory duty as a soldier.
As the days stretch on in the arid desert of Queensland, Charlie meets a bounty hunter who is also looking for his brother Arthur as well as a group of Aboriginal settlers who don't offer much of a friendly hand to him. Soon enough, Charlie is in conference with his brother and his wily sidekick Sam Stote and the tension within Charlie is visibly twisting his conscience in knots. Charlie tells Arthur of Mikey's capture and the men head out to the small town where the Army's post is held. From there, much hell is brought on nearly every character involved.
With this film, Nick Cave once again proves his prowess as a storyteller. Detail is spared not in the film from the story, to the violence, to the harsh conditions of the outback, the unyielding filth that is all over virtually everyone in the film (see the presence of grimy teeth and flies in nearly every cell). Everything from the set and scenery layout to the costume work is done with great care and attention and every measure appears to have been taken to make the film as authentic and gruff as possible. I couldn't recommend this film enough. To those esoteric western fans, a new gun's in town, make note of it.
- Philip Del Costello | 2006-06-29