The Proposition (2005)

Arthur Burns points gun.

Arthur Burns points gun.

Dirty. Sweaty. Bloody. Beautiful. Must be a movie about Australia! But of course. The Proposition is set in 1880’s Australia, a time when policemen went unchecked, and would virtually stop at nothing to apprehend the bushrangers and other outlaws that were number one on their wanted list.

Ray Winstone plays Captain Stanley, just such a police man, with one thing on his mind: bring the Burns brothers down. Problem is, Arthur Burns (Danny Huston) lives in the outback, in caves where even Aborigines are afraid to go. Stanley decides he needs to be a little more “creative” in his means to capture the eldest Burns brother, and so presents the middle brother, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) with the eponymous proposition: go kill your older brother, and I’ll save your youngest brother Mikey from being hanged on Christmas day.

Charlie Burns points gun.

Charlie Burns points gun.

Charlie used to run with his brother, but could no longer handle the senseless violence, and left. Mikey is young, naive and above all innocent – and so Charlie’s choice is made. He grabs a gun, a horse, and rides off into the sunset in search of his brother.

Meanwhile, back in town Stanley’s mental and physical condition deteriorates. Not only is he having trouble apprehending Arthur Burns, who has just committed unspeakable crimes against a “good, English” family – he’s also having issues keeping the nature of the crime a secret from his delicate English flower of a wife Martha (Emily Watson). Worse still is the constant watch of Eden Fletcher, a dandy if I ever saw one, insisting that Stanley do a better job of “civilizing” Australia.

Captain Stanley points gun.

Captain Stanley points gun.

I’m no expert on Australian history, but if I’m to believe what I’ve read in Robert Hughes’s The Fatal Shore, much of what is portrayed here isn’t far from reality. The police would stop at nothing to bring order to the lawless outback. Convicts and their children were often the target of such quests. Perhaps the Nick Cave fan in me is just rationalizing the violence in this movie, but honestly I felt it wasn’t out of place. What is so out of place are the English themselves – with their delicate tea sets, Christmas turkeys, and diamond earrings. This might actually be my favorite element in the movie; the constant bother of the Australian fly on the unnecessary English imports; the dirt and sand on the once shiny English boot.

What can I say, I love this movie. As I’ve mentioned already, it’s got the same dirt and sweat that seems to be a common feature in Australian movies (remember Wake in Fright?). Add onto that Guy Pearce (who is particularly awesome in this), a Nick Cave screenplay and soundtrack, and absolutely gorgeous shots of the outback and what’s not to like? Anyway, the words Australian Western go together so well, don’t you think?



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