The western genre is as American as apple pie. It’s easy to think of film legends like John Wayne, John Huston, Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah along with many others but the truth of the matter is, foreign filmmakers have had success with the genre as well. Sergio Leone, anyone? You could also make the case that samurai tales from Japan have had some influence on our westerns (and vice versa in many cases). What about the Australian outback? ‘The Proposition’ fills that void thanks, in no small part, to musician Nick Cave. Yes, that Nick Cave.
It is somewhere around 1880. The Burns brothers’ gang is a dastardly bunch of outlaws. Before the film starts, the gang has allegedly murdered an entire family. Law enforcement catches up with them at a brothel and kills most of them in a shootout, but a few of them escape. Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) tracks down and makes a proposition to a surviving brother, Charlie (Guy Pearce): if he kills his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), he will be forgiven for his crime along with his younger brother Mikey who was captured by sheriffs and set to be hanged. Arthur is the most dangerous man in the area and is feared by the law and the native Aboriginals. Charlie is given a nine day deadline.
What will Charlie do? Even if he decides to try to kill his psychopathic older brother, can he really pull it off?
This was directed by John Hillcoat (‘The Road’) and written by Nick Cave. He also collaborated with Warren Ellis for the film’s music. Many musicians’ forays into film are just embarrassing, but this is anything but embarrassing. He and Hillcoat are both Aussies, so they are naturally a little more familiar with the distinct aspects of their country’s history than most other people. While Guy Pearce has done his share of non-descript films, he has been in more than his share of home runs, especially ‘Memento’ and ‘LA Confidential.’ Add this to that list.
The dusty environment and beautiful scenery is the perfect setting for such multi-dimensional characters and all of the brutal violence. Charlie isn’t a good person by any definition, but the love he has for his younger brother (and perhaps also for himself) is believable motivation for him to turn on his unpredictable older brother. All too often, we are given dully flawless protagonists who must defeat some evildoer. This is obviously much less straightforward and should be commended for bravely bucking conventions.
Westerns have fallen out of fashion with studios long ago and are often relegated to Hollywood nostalgia. When they are made, it seems to be a rule of quality versus quantity. Most recent efforts have been surprisingly strong and it almost makes you wish that they were produced more frequently. It seems like the genre is slowly gaining some momentum back and while they will probably never again achieve the same heights as yesteryear, it is an encouraging sign for fans.
If you like this kind of thing, do yourself a favor and give ‘The Proposition’ a chance. That’s my proposition.
Rated R 104 minutes 2005
‘The Proposition’ is available to rent/purchase in Allentown, the Lehigh Valley and beyond.