Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Nick Cave
Set in 1880’s Outback Australia—a land from which, as one character notes, God has evaporated, thusly giving credence to Mr. Darwin’s theory of man’s common ancestry with apes (these are beasts, not men!)—The Proposition is a dirty, sweaty Western full of shaggy and bearded men whom the flies buzz around as though they were already dead.
No character is quite good while none is altogether bad, and the unceasing violence leaves them all without redemption. Guy Pearce plays Charlie Burns, an erstwhile member of the viciously vile Burns Gang given the opportunity to earn a pardon for himself, and his younger brother Mikey, by hunting down and delivering his older, far more dangerously degenerate brother Arthur. Meanwhile, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), who offered Charlie that controversial bargain which gives the film its name, struggles, like many an archetypal Western “hero”, to bring civilization to the wild frontier.
The Proposition’s essential and damning drawback is Mr. Cave’s heavy-handed script which at times is nearly laughable, not least of all when a voice-over whispers, what else, pretentious Nick Cave lyrics. Cave brings this pseudopoetry to the dialogue as well (cf. “what are the sun, the moon, and the stars without love?”); if nothing else it reveals the acumen of the actors—particularly John Hurt, a survivor from that generation of English thespians who, at this point, can seemingly do no wrong—as they turn out universally strong performances regardless of having to deliver such drivel.
Despite their ineptitude for conversation, Cave, along with his sycophantic director John Hillcoat, is a decent storyteller, it’s just that The Proposition, while offering an interesting take on many of the Western’s tropes, amounts to little other than an antigenre exercise.