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The Proposition - Review

Guy Pierce and John Hurt in The Proposition

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with Guy Pearce and Danny Huston. Interviews with cast and crew. Making of featurette. Tartan trailer reel. Film notes. Region 0.

THE Western has gone through some pretty tough changes since the likes of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Clint Eastwood shook up the genre to strip away the romanticism associated with it by classic Hollywood films of old.

The Proposition, directed by John Hillcoat from a screenplay by Nick Cave, goes one step further, setting proceedings deep within Australia’s unforgiving Outback to deliver one of the most brutally compelling movies of recent years.

It is a film that takes viewers to the brink of humanity, where desperate men resort to desperate deeds in order to survive the hellish conditions.

Set in the Outback town of Winton during the late 19th Century, the film picks up as two of the notorious Burns brothers – Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey (Richard Wilson) – are captured by British Capt Stanley (Ray Winstone) and faced with near-certain execution.

Rather than carrying out the inevitable hanging, however, Stanley offers Charlie a proposition – that if he heads into the Outback and kills his older, more violent brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), he and his youngest sibling will be spared.

The offer isn’t without risk, especially to Stanley’s attempts to keep the peace, or his own personal safety. But Charlie agrees and sets in motion a devastating chain of events that will test the resolve of everyone concerned.

From its tough premise alone, The Proposition sets out to be an uncompromising experience that explores the darker side of men’s souls.

Yet what could have become a totally cold and savage affair is elevated to one of the best westerns of recent years by a number of factors.

Hillcoat’s decision to set proceedings in Australia proves a master-stroke as the rugged terrain of Winton provides a landscape that has seldom been seen and which plays as big a part in the journey as the characters themselves.

It is a harsh, inhospitable land, covered in flies and governed by insufferable temperatures that defies easy civilization.

Yet in Captain Stanley, there lies hope for as prone to violence as his character undoubtedly is, there’s also a sense of decency guiding him that compels him to do the right thing.

Winstone does an excellent job of conveying this personal torment, offsetting the need to be tough with his desire for change as well as his love for his wife (Emily Watson), for whom he hopes to put an end to the bloodshed.

While both Pearce and Huston are brilliant as the brothers at the centre of the dilemma – the former having to wrestle with his conscience in order to make the ‘right’ decision, while the latter continues to rape, murder and pillage his way towards notoriety.

Needless to say, the violence is brutally realistic and utterly unflinching, providing several moments that are guaranteed to have viewers wincing.

Rather than being stylized or glamourised, however, it merely lends the film an authenticity that is often found lacking in the Hollywood mainstream. In Hillcoat’s film, violence equals pain, equals suffering, equals loss. And boy does the audience feel it.

Yet such is the exceptional quality of the film as a whole, viewers really ought to saddle up for the ride.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 104mins