The Australian Outback. As I explained to my 13-year old daughter the other day, there are few places more inhospitable on the planet than the Australian Outback. And none too many movies made with it as the backdrop. Such is the case with The Proposition (2005) set in Austria in the 1880s before Australia became its own country.
Directed by John Hillcoat The Proposition is a gritty, violent movie dominated by male actors, vile acts, and testosterone. The movie is grey, red, black and raw, and opens with a violent gun battle in the town of Banyon as the local British lawman, one Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winestone Beowulf, Cold Mountain) apprehends Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce L.A. Confidential, Momento, The Time Machine) and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson 48 Shades), after the pair along with their brother Arthur (Danny Huston 21 Grams, The Constant Gardener, Children of Men) and his gang, are accused of a vicious rape and murder.
But Arthur has fled to the hills, the Outback hills that is, but the town wants blood for blood, so Captain Morris makes an unconventional proposition: if Charlie can find and kill his older brother both he and Mikey can go free. Otherwise, Mikey, a meek and weak boy, will be hanged on Christmas Day.
Wanting to save his younger brother Charlie reluctantly sets off after Arthur with but a horse and rifle, not exactly sure what hell do when he finds him. Along the way Charlie runs into an unassuming bounty hunter, one Jellon Lamb (John Hurt Rob Roy, Contact), who of course is looking for his brother, and some of the local and unwelcoming (dark-skinned) natives.
Meanwhile back at the little town in the desert, with word gets out that Mikey is in custody, and Captain Stanley starts to have problems with the towns people, the men under his command who have little respect for him, his superior Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) is demanding heads and even Stanley's innocent alabaster wife Martha (Emily Watson Red Dragon) demands justice in the form of more than an ounce of Mikeys flesh.
At times compelling, other time hard to watch, The Proposition unfolding as it does amidst the dusty arid plains and jagged rocky formation that make up the seventh continents formidable wilderness, is nonetheless a movie with a message. Ferreting out that message through the grit, wanton violence, and bloodletting might be a chore however.
There away from the coast that so defies Australia in the American mind, in the famed Outback a war is brewing that is to set the stage Australian history for decades to come. The White Europeans are at war against the indigenous black Aborigine, the English are at war against the Irish, and in the Proposition, brother is pitted against brother, and, most of all, decent humanity struggles against its own Darwinian bestiality. There is scare anything redeeming here, nothing beautiful and everything ugly.
Bleak, gritty, violent, enormously powerful, wonderfully acted, and beautifully shot, The Proposition lays witness to the birth of yet another nation on the backs of the innocent and unsuspecting. While I would not call this movie a masterpiece, it is a fitting return to the Western that American cinema no longer seems to be interested in making.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age
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