The Proposition

A decent proposal.

Released in 2005, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 23 Apr 2006 by Scott Morris
The Proposition image

Now, being a jaded, bitter old fool it takes something slightly unusual to pique my interest. A screenplay by Ozzy gloomsmith Nick Cave, of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds? That'll do it. In itself hardly guarantee of quality, but in these lean days we've learned to take what we're given. At any rate, it's blend of bleak storyline, bleak landscapes and bleak bleakness provide a rather bleak experience. Quite a good one, mind. But bleak.

Tubby outback sheriff Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is charged with rounding up the notorious Burns gang who have been rather busy murdering their way across the formative country. No small task. but Cap'n has a cunning plan of almost Baldrickian proportions. The youngest of the Burns clan, Mike (Richard Wilson) isn't quite the sharpest knife in the drawer, and hardly the dangerous, supernutter killing machine that eldest Arthur (Danny Huston) is. The middle position, as is often the case in families of criminals1 is filled by someone who eventually decides that the life of an outlaw isn't for him, albeit not to the extent of disowning it completely. Howdy, Charlie (Guy Pearce)! But what of this plan?

The plan is this - capture Mike, arrange to have him hung by the neck until he be dead unless aforementioned middle child Charlie goes bandit, Reynolds style2, tracking his elder brother and delivering him to Cap Stan's eager little hands. Sounds like the sort of perfectly considered plan that could in no way come back to bite Stanley and his perfectly formed wife (Emily Mortimer) on the buttockular area, doesn't it? Oh, wait. Actually it does, doesn't it? Damn.

The Proposition image

Not that it's exactly plain sailing for Charlie either. Quite aside from actually finding his elder brother's gang who the Aboriginals happily describe as some sort of ghost, he's not only got difficult terrain to traverse but bounty hunters to contend with. Well, bounty hunter at least, Jellon Lamb (John 'not dead yet no matter how much I inexplicably believe it' Hurt) to contend with, even if he is pissed out of his gourd and laughing hysterically about monkeys.

That said, I don't want to give the impression that this is some sort of all action neo-Western as it rather plainly isn't. It's another one of those frustrating affairs where little of real note happens, and many of the most memorable scenes consist of little more than Stanley, Charlie or Arthur staring vacantly / purposefully into the camera. Which isn't a problem when watching it, but becomes a pretty major stumbling block when trying to convince someone to go see it, which is sort of what I'm trying to do, see.

Much of what The Proposition does that you, or at least I, can point at and go 'oooh' doesn't add up to a hill of beans 3. It has just about the best and most accurate gunshot woundage in recent memory. It refuses to shy away from how unpleasant our protagonists and anti-heroes are, and how nasty their violence can get. Which is nice, but probably won't have you beating a path to the cinema.

The Proposition image

Nick Cave also provides the driving force behind the soundtrack, which you could make a sound case for being the most remarkable and effective element in this film. It's by turns beautiful, melodic, desolate and discordant. If there's been a more striking and fitting soundtrack to a film in the last year I'll be damned to a bleak hell indeed.4

What else? Well, there's at least three superb, attention demanding performances that fill the screen so effectively that there lapses of action do not suffer a corresponding lapse of interest. Pearce, Huston and Winstone play blinders, making their characters seem both sympathetic and repulsive regardless of what side of the law they're on. In short, they feel human rather than some clich? spewing caricature.

There are points where The Proportion seems to be falling short of exactly what it's trying to be, but they're few and far between. For the rest of the time, it's a hoot, is what it is. A somewhat tragic and bleak hoot where humanity isn't exactly treated with sweetness and light, but a hoot nonetheless. Go watch.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

John Hillcoat
Cast list:
Guy Pearce (Charlie Burns)
Ray Winstone (Captain Stanley)
Danny Huston (Arthur Burns)
Richard Wilson (Mike Burns)
Emily Watson (Martha Stanley)
John Hurt (Jellon Lamb)
David Wenham (Eden Fletcher)

Note 1 - May not actually be true as statement essentially plucked directly from arse.

Note 2 - May not actually be 'Reynolds style' as reporter actually has no idea what 'Reynolds style' means.

Note 3 - Let's face it, it actually might. I haven't a clue what a hill of beans looks like or what utility it would provide. Must stop using phrases I don't understand.

Note 4 - Writer may in fact already be damned to a bleak hell for prior actions. Cannot be taken as binding.