The Proposition

DirectorJohn Hillcoat
WriterNick Cave
StarringRay Winstone
Richard Wilson
Guy Pearce
Emily Watson
Danny Huston
Running Time104 mins

This is a very interesting film set in the harsh outback of Australia in the 1880s. It really is a Western Film but with more exotic and unusual features. It is interesting to see aborigines in place of Indians, Union Jacks in place of the Stars and Stripes or a Captain in place of a sheriff. The setting is familiar and alien at the same time.

The story revolves around a proposition by the Captain of the police (ex British-army 22 years) to the brother of a notorious criminal responsible for vicious attacks, rape and murder. The Captain wants to set one brother against the other and his bargaining chip is the fact that he has the third (and youngest) brother in captivity. The proposition offers the freedom of the youngest brother for the death of the eldest one.

The film gets off to fine start. The fantastically atmospheric music (provided by the screenwriter Nick Cave) gels perfectly with the awesomely inhospitable terrain where the criminal brother is hiding. The film splits between the two brothers tracking and dealing with one another, and the state of the authorities and conditions back in the town. In fact, I preferred the scenes set around the Captain, his police and his homelife. I do not usually enjoy Ray Winstone in films, but he found a character that suited him perfectly with this film. The Captain is trying his best and is prepared to bend the rules to achieve the greater goal of peace and quiet on his patch of territory. Indeed, at heart the film is about bringing civilisation to the frontier. The character of his wife is particularly important in showing the social climbing and aspirations of people who are obviously trying to better their position but in harsh conditions. Unfortunately for the Captain, his cutting of corners does come back to haunt him and puts all that he strives for at risk. However, it is not just the forces of Law and Order who want civilisation, peace and quiet over lawlessness as some of the other characters in the film will demonstrate.

The characters are believable and their motivations are interesting and understandable. There is a lovely cameo role by John Hurt. This character in particular is excellent at illustrating some of the racist ideas and theories of the era. The film does not glorify, nor does it ignore the contribution of Aborigines in this stage of Australian history, rather it attempts to show just how complicated and hypocritical the relations could be. Likewise, the police are shown as anything but fine and upstanding members of the community. Most of them are loathe to have been stationed to such a god-awful posting and merrily drown their sorrows as frequently as possible. The line between the forces of good and evil is extremely fuzzy and characters on both sides seem to cross the line back and forth with remarkable ease.

The film can get a little over melodramatic at times and the last quarter of the film did feel a little disjointed in places. This is one of the few films that I would have preferred being a bit longer - it felt like some crucial scenes were rushed particularly when compared to the slower, more thoughtful start of the film. However, this is a fascinating film and I urge you to see it if at all possible. It is one of those all too rare examples of a thoughtful film that does not hide away from uncomfortable issues.

Buy this DVD at: Amazon

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by Stephen Luscombe