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A new cinematic sub genre now exists. The Australian western. The Proposition though transplants the mythic landscape of The American versions into a broiling sun/sand blasted fly plagued hell hole. It's not a nice place, slavered in heart that regularly fluctuates between 40-50 degrees centigrade. You sort of wonder why anyone would want to be there in the first place.

But there people are, in 1880 the British have set up a settlement in Banyon, a newly established town in Queensland. Overseen by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) who along with his wife Martha (Emily Watson) have made a futile attempt to relocate their homeland into this godforsaken place with their net curtains carefully tended garden and roast Sunday lunches the settlement is under a pall of fear after a vicious gang of outlaws led by the psychopathic Arthur Burns (Danny Huston) have slaughtered a family of settlers. Stanley eager to tame this frontier land hunts down and captures Burns brothers Charlie (Guy Pearce) and his semi-retarded kid brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) and offers Charlie a gut wrenching proposal. In order to save Mickey and himself from the hangman he must hunt and kill his older brother.

Given 9 days to carry out this onerous task Charlie sets out on a journey redolent of Marlow's search for Kurtz in Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness", into an unforgiving unknown with god knows what horrors at the end of it.

The Proposition is as, everyone remotely interested in the film knows, is written by Nick Cave , and anyone familiar with his music, most notably it's preoccupation with death , murder and brutal lyricism , and also his novel "And The Ass Saw The Angel" will not be too surprised at the levels of violence. The blood letting is in all truth a little over the top straying too close to horror grand guignol at times but the exceptional performances by all the cast with notable cameos from John Hurt as aged bounty hunter Jellon Lamb and the expressive script more than compensate.

Directed by John Hillcoat who has collaborated with Cave on the film "Ghosts of The Civil Dead" who in turn wrote the rather fine sound track for Hillcoats "To Have And To Hold"( Cave provides the soundtrack here along with Bad Seeds stalwart Warren Ellis) the films themes are multi layered and complex utilising a number of dichotomous situations- family ties versus survival, civilisation versus the frontier, the subjugation of an indigenous population versus their willing co-operation , to produce a film that echoes richly with themes common with the traditional western yet gives them a slightly contemporary sadistic twist without compromising any of it's poetry or emotional resonance.

The western is alive and well and currently residing in Australia, but it's a more savage beast by far .
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on 11 March 2015
Very violent from beginning to end, in fact the end is worse than the beginning...its a very gritty and raw film, generally quite stunned after i saw it the first time...left me feeling quite uncomfortable. I wouldn't recommend watching this film if you are under 21 suffer from a nervous disposition, are female (because there are some nasty rape scenes in it) - generally this film is quite messed up, it has decapitation in it too, generally not a nice film to watch, it will make you feel cold afterwards and thinking OMG i can't believe i just watched this? However, on the plus side, the film does have great acting in it, and has excellently researched guns and costumes for the period it is set probably a man's film, i only bought this because it was recommended to me after i bought ned kelly? But this is way way more gritty and vivid than ned kelly! No comparison at all...this film is disturbed, but its artistic with it, sort of, if you can get past all the vivid and graphic shootings/ beatings etc... Generally not sure what to make of this film, not the sort of film you'd probably want to see more than once to be honest, as it is quite harrowing and ultra violent. I prefer my westerns a bit more gentle...
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*May contain spoilers. Or may not *

'The Proposition' reunites writer Nick Cave with director John Hillcoat - the pair previously collaborating on 1988's grim prison movie 'Ghosts...of the Civil Dead' (Cave & the Bad Seeds also provided the soundtrack to the so-so 'To Have & To Hold'). Fans of Cave's records will note he has often nodded towards this kind of territory in songs such as 'Hamlet (Pow, Pow, Pow'), 'Jack the Ripper' & 'A Box for Black Paul', as well as his classic spin on Southern Gothic found in his sole novel to date, the brilliant 'And the Ass saw the Angel.' 'The Proposition' nods to the Old Testament side of Cave's work, one that he has veered away from since 1997 in his music, and it certainly has the feel of writers like William Faulkner & Flannery O'Connor.

The setting of the film gives an interesting spin on the Western, a genre that often surfaces in a manner that is spun in a direction - the indie film ('Dead Man'), the sub-Searchers wannabe ('The Missing'), the Costner vehicle ('Open Range') & a total failure such as the dire 'Dust.' Cave and Hillcoat bring their respective identities to this genre, nodding to the colonial past of Australia, apparent from the opening period photographs and the Aboriginal slaves. Cave's work recently has nodded to history and war (single 'Nature Boy' alluded to Vietnam, as did his unproduced screenplay for 'Gladiator 2'), and here his screenplay nods to a difficult period in Australian history, that many people will know through stuff like Ned Kelly.

The film opens with a violent shootout, which concludes with Charlie (Guy Pearce) & Mikey Burns being captured by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) who offers the former the proposition of the title: Mikey will hang on Christmas Day if Charlie doesn't track down and kill his brother Arthur (Danny Huston) who is holed up in a place where even the Aboriginal slaves won't go and who has committed a murder/rape in Stanley's area recently. Charlie has no choice, so sets off on his journey which recalls the visionary landscape found in Cave's novel - it should be noted that the cinematography is excellent and the whole cast and crew went out on a limb shooting in such a locale! (I'm guessing Cave stayed at home?)

The film sets up the birth of modern Australia under colonial rule, Stanley caught between doing the right thing and getting results for his boss (an unpleasant soul he shares some of the qualaties of Empire representatives found in films like A Passage to India and Lagaan). Stanley attempts to shield his wife from the horrors of the world they live in, though in a key scene Stanley's wife (played by the wonderful Emily Watson) plays a role in a brutal scene that recalls the scourging of Christ. Stanley knows what this means, leading to the punishing conclusion in which Charlie finds another path...

'The Proposition' is a bleak take on the Western, hard hitting stuff and the best example of the genre in years. All of its violence is justified, some of it reminded me of Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence' - I liked the way Arthur & Stanley's altercation took place off screen like Shakespeare (the wrapping of Stanley's head in a Union Jack was interesting also!). A great film and well worth watching, this DVD adds a bonus disc of extras that are of interest; the supporting cast is all fantastic (great to see Noah Taylor in there, he's always been a favourite of mine) and the music by Cave and fellow Bad Seed Warren Ellis is brilliant. There simply isn't a film like this - imagine Sam Peckinpah with less camera trickery and a proper script!
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on 1 November 2006

This is an excellent DVD package. On Disc 1 you get the superb main feature. On Disc 2 you'll find a raft of extras: loads of interviews and a Making of documentary that's almost as long (118 minutes) as the feature itself!

The Film

As for the film itself, the first point that must be made is that this is NOT a Western. Anyone who calls it a Western has no idea what they are talking about. A Western is a film about events taking place in the American West during the second half of the 19th Century, i.e. circa 1850-1900. There may be some variation on the date or location, e.g. drifting across the border into "Mehico", but what we're talking about is the good old Wild West.

The Proposition takes place in the Australian Outback in the late 19th Century. The parallels that exist with Westerns are fairly obvious (brutal landscapes, drifters on horses, indigenous population being mistreated by white settlers, gun-play, etc.) but that's where the similarities end. This is a morality tale concerning white settlers (British and Irish), indigenous aboriginals and local whites in Australia.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film for its beautiful photography, interesting characters, tense and foreboding story and brief history lesson on white settlement of the Australian Outback - not a subject one is overwhelmed with in films today.

The acting is outstanding from everyone in the film. Danny Huston (Arthur Burns) caught my eye in particular. Arthur, although a very violent and disturbing man, also comes across as intelligent, educated and not lacking a certain amount of integrity, at least where his `family' is concerned.

Guy Pearce puts in another fine, if limited, performance. For my money, Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Memento), as one of Australia's leading actors, is building up a body of work that has, in my opinion, already surpassed that of Mel Gibson (Gallipoli was probably Mel's best effort) and will soon rival that of the great Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, The Insider, L.A. Confidential).

Other noteworthy performances come from the ever-excellent Ray Winstone, Emily Watson (the only female role in the film) and a very nice part for John Hurt.

Penned by Nick Cave (who, unsurprisingly provides the soundtrack), The Proposition is more than a violent tale of revenge and justice in an uncivilised and lawless land. It gets right into the heart of love, loyalty, beauty, colonialism, racism and so on.
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on 3 April 2016
Little story, but with good cinematography and acting.
However the lack of story and character development leaves the viewer feeling cheated and wondering why they spent the time watching this.
Ray Winston and Emily Watson do their best, but there's not enough to save.
Don't be fooled by the trailer - its better than the film - the word at the forefront of my mind when I'd finished watching this was TRIPE!
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on 1 September 2015
A dark, brooding synth creeps over the cracked, sandy landscape drained dry of all life. Strained violin strings trace the prints of four riders on horseback wearing revenge on their cloaks that dance violently in the evening breeze. Heavy drum beats introduce decayed, decapitated corpses which inhabit a blizzard of flies that call putrefaction their home. Piano strings introduce the sombre melancholy of despair, misanthropy and nihilism that pervades. Charred silhouettes of a once-domestic refuge serve as postcard reminders of the devil's wrath. A whip is caked in a young boy's blood as he remains hoisted, like Jesus crucified in front of toddlers and the elderly for daytime entertainment. A bounty hunter, staring to the heavens, waiting for an answer, bleeds out like a stuck pig as he recites poetry to his famed killer and smiles sweetly. Welcome to Australia. This is British Colonial times. And a proposition has been made.

Brutal, blistering and unflinching, this is no holds barred filmmaking, which grabs the viewer by the throat, heart and soul. Nick Cave, Warren Ellis and John Hillcoat all work in harmonious tandem to deliver a blood-stained, drought-stricken tale of depravity, hate and literature seton the Western outbacks of Australia. With Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Emily Watson taking centre-stage, watch and behold as they walk unknowingly into a dangerous conflict where a positive outcome is far outreaching.

The cinematography tracks Charlie Burns as he traverses the Western plains, gun in hand. Mikey brutally punished and beaten for all the crowd to see. A flicker, just for a moment, of Arthur Burns' haunting, dogman face as he stares intensely out at the blue dusk. Martha, back turned, reflects on her maternal moment of newborn revelry in the bath tub to Captain Stanley, who tears at the mere thought of a pregnant women being raped and burned alive. It's gorgeous in its presentation and poetic in it's delivery, bolstered by the iron-strong screenplay written by also-composer Nick Cave. These men breathe an air that's as suffocating and sickening as the violence they plunge themselves in. Happiness and mercy are the words of the heathens. You'll never hear 'O Peggy Gordon' the same again.

"When," said the moon to the stars in the sky,
"Soon," said the wind that followed the moon,
"Who," said the cloud that started to cry,
"Me," said the rider, dry as a bone...
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on 23 July 2006
Switching the western genre to the Australian outback, Nick Cave provides here a meaty and rivetting script as the framework of one of the year's most visually stunning and musically haunting films. Cave, whose slowly evolving style has come to excell at capturing the poetry of the human condition, be it in his lyrics or prose, has carved out here a fantastic exploration of the ever-important questions surrounding the nature of loyalty, violence, justice, retribution and morality. The Proposition, whose plot is described in other reviews, serves to illustrate the absurdity of punitive justice as a means towards a more moral society, and roundly rejects to portray conflicts between people as simplistic good versus evil divides. Cleverly woven into all this are traditional themes of the hero tale and an unflinching confrontation with the nature of violence as a means to a morally good end. The film's failure to deliver the viewer from a predicable ending is only of secondary importance, given the gravity of its subject matter, its ghostly atmospheric setting, and exemplary performances, particularly from Ray Winston, whose character's struggle with the division of loyalties between the law, his wife and his humanity is conveyed masterfully. Detail and the diverse range of references to feminism, empire, and Christianity make this film a delight to behold and adorn its completely engrossing plot, whilst prompting the audience to reconsider some conventional wisdoms that too often slip past us unquestioned. I am grateful for such contributions to the film world, and call for more efforts like this one. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 2 April 2007
I was blown away by this film when I saw it the first time at the cinema and was equally impressed when I bought this 2 disc package and watched it again in the privacy of my own home. With an unforgettable opening scene involving a terrifying shoot-out, it throws the viewer immediately into a maelstrom of savagery and lawlessness. This is the Australian Outback in the 19th Century - not a place for the faint-hearted or weak of spirit. Trying to make sense of it all is Captain Stanley, a respectable Englishman and robust officer of the law, and a well-mannered, doting husband to his dear wife, Martha (Emily Watson).

Upon capturing Charlie Burns, one of the most dangerous outlaws in the region, and his younger brother, Mikey, Stanley takes the gamble of a lifetime when he offers Charlie a pardon and the release of his brother for the head of Charlie's older brother, Arthur. What makes this film so gripping is the way in which the tension hangs so heavily in the stifling heat, a tension that is punctuated effectively by various acts of shocking brutality, desperation and betrayal in keeping with the film's unforgiving setting. Guy Pearce's portrayal of the staunch Charlie Burns is a triumph despite the fact that for much of the film, he is a solitary, silent figure. As a previous reviewer has suggested, it could be argued that both writer and director are rather too much in thrall to Ray Winstone's character (Stanley) as he appears on-screen far more than Pearce's. However, it would be churlish to criticize this aspect of the film too heavily - if at all - as Winstone's performance is one of utter magnificence.

Tense, violent and occasionally nauseous (notably, the scene in which young Mikey gets flogged), this is nevertheless one of the best films I've seen in recent years, and everyone involved in its making should be congratulated.

Matt Pucci
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on 22 May 2014
I quite enjoyed this film the first time i saw it, it is brutal and harsh like the Australian outback. The second viewing highlighted the flaws in the script and casting, Ray Winston and Emily Watson are probably the worst screen couple I have ever seen (they don't even look comfortable in each others company in the behind the scenes interviews. The film is beautifully shot and you can almost taste the dust, there is a wonderful moment when you see flies clinging to the backs of actors, you really get a sense of the place. Unfortunately interesting moments do not add up to a satisfying film.
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VINE VOICEon 8 November 2006
Set in the blistering heat of the Australian outback in the 19th Century, The Propostition is a slow burning powerhouse of a film.

Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is in charge of a thuggish police unit in a desolate outback settlement where they spend most days hunting Aborigines. His real desire is to bring to justice the notorious Burns brothers who have committed various brutal crimes together. When Stanley and his men capture Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his simple minded younger brother Mikey, he proposes a deal where Charlie must go out and kill his psychotic older brother Arthur to save Mikey from the gallows. He has nine days to deliver Arthurs body to Stanley. Pearce heads out into the hellish wilderness to hunt down heavily wanted Arthur for the ultimate showdown.

It is difficult to decide who to root for, the weary police Captain who seems a good man at heart or Guy Pearces outlaw, driven by the love for his family. Both men have extremely violent tendencies and are equally ruthless. The baron wilderness of the desert is beautifully shot throughout the film as the tension is cranked up slowly towards the unavoidable clash at the end. Brilliant stuff.

Like this? Try: The Wild Bunch
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