(2005) dir. John Hillcoat
viewed: 06/06/06 at the Lumiere Theater, SF, CA
Written and scored by Nick Cave, The Proposition is a gritty and gory Western set in the wilds of Australia, a morality tale with its own morality left significantly ambiguous. Directed by Australian John Hillcoat, who also directed the other Nick Cave-written film Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988), which I never saw, brings a stark brutality to the landscape of the outback, coated in dirt, blood, and flies. Recalling Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman, the film is a dystopic Western, a harsh clash of the European settlers and the rough landscape and native people.
The titular proposition poses one brother against another brother to save a third brother from hanging. Though the narrative could theoretically be easily transposed on the American West of the same period, the story is specifically Australian and addresses the issues of the taming of the land. The Aboriginal people portrayed in the film are not as romanticized as they are in other Australian films as mystic and powerful. They are largely seen through Western eyes and there is a sensibility that seems to try to portray them somewhat through the eyes of the characters, which is mostly unenlightened. I get a sense from the disclaimer at the beginning of the film that some aspects of portrayal and depiction of dead Aboriginal people in photographs has some potential to offend. Not sure what that is all based on, but it’s there.
Why don’t they make more Westerns? Okay, I know the answer to that, it’s a dying genre. All historical genres will come and go with occasional successes, but they do not resonate presently with popular culture. But this is a very good Western, a very good film.
There are excellent performances from Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, and Emily Watson. It’s a brooding, yet thoughtful film, with brutal resolution but conflicted morality. And it’s artful without drifting too frequently into artiness.
Not that it’s had many true challengers, but this is the best film that I have seen in the theater this year. It will definitely be too violent for some, but for those who can stomach it, it’s great.