The Friday Afternoon Movie: The Proposition

A ride through the dusty landscape of Australia’s Outback as the FAM presents 2005’s brutal Western The Proposition; directed by John Hillcoat, written by Coil Beat heartthrob Nick Cave, and starring Guy Pierce, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, Danny Huston, and John Hurt to name a few.

The world of Hillcoat’s Australia, circa 1880, is a harsh, desolate, and unforgiving wasteland; an Abadon devoid of compassion or solace. It is this land that Ray Winstone’s Captain Stanley, having moved there with his proper, English wife Martha, attempts to tame. His immediate aim is to hunt down the Burns gang, who are wanted for the rape and murder of the Hopkins family. Having captured two of the brothers, Mikey and Charlie (Guy Pierce), he makes Charlie an offer: he and his brother will be released and excused of all crimes if Charlie kills his brother Arthur (Danny Huston), an eloquent psychopath so vicious that he is known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as “The Dog Man”.

Cave is an accomplished writer and The Proposition calls to mind many of the same themes as his first novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, a book I’ve read twice and still not decided whether I actually enjoyed. As with his novel, The Proposition comes close to merely becoming gruesome pornography of the soul. Cave constructs stories devoid of the concept of innocence — in the end all are guilty and shall be punished.

Still, the images of sun-baked emptiness and blood red skies evoke enough strange beauty to transcend, if only momentarily, the unyielding parade of violence. Winstone plays Stanley as a land-locked Ahab whose intentions, while principled, are not exactly pure in contrast to Arthur, a man with no illusions as to his place in world. The penultimate scene, taking place during an absurd staging of a traditional English Christmas dinner, is superb in its tension making for a dénouement in which no one wins.

It would, perhaps, be easy to dismiss The Proposition as a simple tale of violence begetting violence and indeed that might be a true assessment; but it is so raw in its telling, so unapologetic in its delivery that in the end such an observation is moot. It’s a film that refuses the viewer any consolation and expects no quarter in return. You may either watch or, like the Stanley’s Aboriginal servant Tobey — removing his shoes and abandoning them in the meticulously cultivated garden — you may quietly take your leave.

6 Responses to “The Friday Afternoon Movie: The Proposition”

  1. Eric Says:

    I saw this movie once and I’m glad I did, though I would not want to see it again. The film is beautifully crafted but is very disturbing, for its relentless brutality and for its overwhelmingly bleak and desolate portrayal of human nature. That said, there is also a peculiar, mysterious beauty about this movie, a sense of awe, a vision of people utterly lost in a vast world that is completely beyond their comprehension. It’s one of the few films I’ve ever seen that really shook me up.

  2. Damien Says:

    Gotta love the CH Synchronicity: I was just planning on watching this, today…

  3. Ev Says:

    Nick Cave remains one of my strongest influences and all-around favorites. As a longtime fan of his music, lyrics, novels (his latest, The Death of Bunny Munro, I highly recommend. It’s inappropriately hilarious and tragic).
    I think he’s aged with grace, while keeping his proper, upfront madness that can be witnessed in the latest Grinderman video (also directed by Hilllcoat).
    His movie scores (with Ellis)are also always well done. I especially loved their work on The Proposition. Such a wonderfully raw film.
    I think I read somewhere, a while back, that Cave was disappointed with the end result of The Proposition.. I look forward to any future collaborations between him, Ellis and Hillcoat.

  4. John G Says:

    Great review. It perfectly summarizes the film’s undeniably forceful strengths without ignoring the gruesome, violent cynicism that some viewers might find too easy and instinctual in a culture that already glorifies violence. It will be interesting to see how Cave’s seemingly newfound sense of humor (see: Grinderman, “The Death of Bunny Munro,” etc.) might affect his future sojourns into the world of movie script writing.

  5. Heather Says:

    FUCK YEAH. Quite possibly my favourite film ever. I had heard a bit of Nick Cave here and there but my interest didn’t pique until I saw this film. I’m a total Cave devotee now. The soundtrack makes for incredible and very evocative listening.

    I also think the interaction between Winston and Watson is exquisite. They are so tender and loving to each other, two gentle Victorians whose sweet little bubble of affection keeps getting unceremoniously ruined by the dusty, bloody outside world.

    I find it a little difficult to watch the scene where yer man gets his head literally kicked in, but the rest is such a composition.

  6. Cjrpos Says: