My long time buddy Steve Cook recommended THE PROPOSITION (2005) to me awhile back and I finally got around to watching it yesterday. I'm glad he turned me on to this Australian western that has elements of Peckinpah and Leone with a liberal dash of Tarantinoesque violence.
The film starts with a literal bang, thrusting us into the middle of a gun battle taking place at a remote wooden shed (whore house?) somewhere in the Australian outback. The police win the battle and Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), faces his two prisoners, brothers Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey (Richard Wilson) Burns. Turns out their older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), is a certified psycho killer, having recently slaughtered an entire family comprised of a man, his wife and their infant child (it's implied the woman was raped). Arthur is a deranged, homicidal maniac but Captain Stanley is much too civilized to track and capture the man himself. Instead he offers Charlie a "proposition". Stanley will hold Mikey in jail for nine days, after which Mikey will be hanged for his crimes. While Mikey sits in jail, Charlie must venture into the wilderness, find Arthur and kill him.
Thus, a chain of events is set in motion and it's one that will not end well for all involved. Charlie is wounded by aborigines but is rescued and nursed back to health by his brother and his gang while Captain Stanley and his English wife, Martha (Emily Watson), desperately try to bring some whiff of civilization to the fly speck town they live in by preparing to celebrate the upcoming Christmas Day.
But political pressure, in the form of Stanley's boss, Eden Fletcher (David Wenham), is put upon Stanley to do something more concrete than simply wait for Charlie to accomplish his mission (or not). The helpless Mikey is taken out of his cell and mercilessly whipped 100 times in front of an impassive crowd of townspeople. Mikey is now at death's door and Charlie and Arthur are heading for town, aiming to exact vengeance for their wounded and dying brother.
Mikey does indeed succumb to his injuries, leaving Arthur to target Stanley and Martha as his next victims. But Charlie finally sees that family ties can only bind so tight when your brother is a savage animal of a killer.
Shot on location in Australia (the cinematography by Benoit Delhomme is first rate), THE PROPOSITION presents a bleak look at life in the Australian outback in the 1880s. There's nothing remotely romanticized about the people or their lives. They live a hellish existence, full of danger and death. And flies. Boy, there are a lot of flies buzzing around in this movie.
All of the leads are strong as is John Hurt as a crafty bounty hunter who crosses paths with Charlie. The script by Nick Cave and direction by John Hilcoat pays homage to other classic works of the genre while simultaneously charting its' own course and offering us something that while it looks familiar is definitely a different kind of Western.
Bloody, brutal and violent, THE PROPOSITION is not for everyone. But if you're a fan of Westerns and are willing to take a chance on a fresh and unique spin on this venerable genre, have I got a proposition for you.