Reviews

The Proposition (2005)

Matt Mazur
Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns

Nick Cave's The Proposition blends equal parts Walkabout and Sergio Leone's grim atmospherics to illustrate the brutality of imperialism.


The Proposition

Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, John Hurt, Richard Wilson
MPAA rating: R
Studio: First Look
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2006-05-05 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Nick Cave's The Proposition blends equal parts Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout and Sergio Leone's grim atmospherics to illustrate the brutality of imperialism. Set during the Bushranger period of colonial Australia, the film dramatizes the cycle of violence set in motion by European expansion from several different perspectives, all embedded in a brutal struggle for control of the land.

While bloodshed and moral ambiguity are nothing new to the Western genre, in The Proposition every element, from the smallest role to the tiniest snippet of music (the score by Warren Ellis and Cave ranges from whispery to bombastic), highlights their effects. Nine days before Christmas, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) offers the titular "proposition" to the outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce). He is to murder his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston) as retribution for the slaughter of a "good Christian family," in order to save his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) from the noose. What follows is a complicated morality play. Charlie's trek to find his brother is not unlike Marlow's journey in Heart of Darkness, as Arthur, like Kurtz, is insane, calculating, and charismatic.

Stanley's efforts to bring the Burns gang to justice, to "civilize the land," reflect his own incongruities, as he vacillates between acting as an English gentleman with his wife Martha (Emily Watson) and as a brutal instrument of European oppression on the job. His deal with Charlie means a wanted man goes free, and soon, Stanley is trapped between the will of his superiors and his own conscience, all the while trying to protect and please his wife, who is neither subservient nor outspoken. Watson finds a balance between obedience and willfulness that conveys Martha's own colonialist experience. She observes Stanley grappling with his decisions. And soon, his coughing and shaking become so pronounced that he is difficult to watch, as he disintegrates into a powerless, nervous wreck.

Charlie's journey is no less harrowing. His journey leads him to surreal encounters with a deranged bounty hunter (John Hurt) and soon after, brother Arthur. His body ravaged from starvation and worry, Charlie suffers a nearly fatal attack by an Aboriginal spear, and is then saved by Arthur's gang. They hatch a plan to spring Mikey from Stanley's military jail.

The several plot strands of The Proposition culminate on Christmas Day. Observing traditional pieties and pretending the horrors around her might be held at bay, Martha prepares an elaborate holiday feast, complete with a decorated tree, only to have the cultivated stillness destroyed by the arrival of Arthur Burns and his gang. This vicious assault reveals the void in Stanley's assertion that he means to "bring civilization," exposing its predication on hierarchy and oppression.

Perhaps the most afflicted by this civilization are the indigenous Australians, even as they seem peripheral to the white men's plotting. While some rebel and retreat to the desert, and some work with the English to quell native rebellion, still others forge relationships with outlaws like Arthur Burns. Their variety of responses to the incursion into their land alludes to the notorious history of the period, when the choice between resistance to and cooperation with colonial powers offered little difference in outcome.

At the German premier, director John Hillcoat explained that many of the indigenous actors and employees faced the opposition of other indigenous people for working on the film because of strict taboos regarding the representation of the dead. The Aboriginal actors' input, Hillcoat said, was essential in making the story both timely and believable. With their help, Hillcoat and Cave have forged a vision of colonial violence that serves as a timeless anti-violence parable.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.