Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Movie: The Proposition (2005, U.S. 2006)

Here we are closing in on the year’s halfway mark and I’m thinking: where’s a movie to send me back on my heels? This Australian western will do the trick nicely.

The Burns gang, a trio of outlaw brothers, are terrorizing the countryside. When two of them are captured, the English garrison commander Stanley (Ray Winstone – has the man ever been bad in anything?) takes an unorthodox step in his mission to “civilize this land.” He offers sober middle child Charlie (Guy Pearce) a deal: head into the outback and kill his older brother Arthur by Christmas. If he does, Stanley will spare his younger brother’s life and pardon them both.

The action cuts between Charlie’s trek into the wild and Stanley’s slow realization that his definition of law and order may not match that of those he is trying to protect – or even that of his wife (Emily Watson), an English rose struggling to take root in rocky soil.

Great acting abounds. Danny Huston’s Arthur isn’t some brutal beast but a poetry-besotted patriarch, which only makes him more frightening. Pearce barely says a word, but it soon becomes clear that the line between society and lawlessness runs straight through him. And John Hurt tears through the scenery as a wily bounty hunter.

Director John Hillcoat gives the movie an extraordinary look, like an artifact of the era come to life. I didn’t see if there was a credit for ‘fly wrangler,’ but if there wasn’t there damn well should have been.

The script by musician Nick Cave unfolds with the power of a folk tale – or one of the murder ballads he recorded with the Bad Seeds. Always nice to see a member of the Sons of Lee Marvin doing well. Even if they won’t me let in their secret club. The black-balling bastards.