O Brother, Where Art Thou?

“The Proposition” is an Australian Western that takes place during 1880s, in the brutal but beautiful landscape of the outback. Authority figure Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has captured two brothers of the notorious Burns gang, wanted for murder and rape. He offers the older brother Charlie (Guy Pearce) an intriguing proposition. The good captain will set him free, but he has to find and kill his oldest and most rotten brother Arthur (Danny Huston). The deadline is Christmas Day and if Charlie fails, his also-captured 14 year-old brother Mikey will fatally dangle from a noose. Oh brother.

“The Proposition” has uniformly good cast. Winstone as Captain Stanley has a commanding presence, but the captain also struggles with a fragile and conscientious mind. Emily Watson, as the captain’s wife, brings emotional baggage to the story and it disastrously leads to one of the movie’s aching scenes. Danny Huston, as the savage brother, is quite the menacing creature. Guy Pearce, almost unrecognizable from “Memento” and “L.A. Confidential,” looks haggard and emotionally drained as Charlie.

To me, the movie is a fascinating study of people that lived during that place and time. The English settlers, who resided on the outback, think the land could be tamed with their sense of order, justice, and upright morality. Despite their effort to be all civilized, they don’t quite think, but fall back on the savagery of their emotions. The sickening displays of racism, prejudice, fear, revenge, and violence are the sources of the film’s power. In terms of story, writer Nick Cave has fashioned a startling Western that slowly gathers momentum. But in terms of characters, I didn’t connect the way I wanted to. The leads are introspective men and may across as cinematically boring. There are numerous scenes of staring off in the distance and where the soundtrack plays poetic reveries (not as overdone as “The New World” though). Sometimes it works. Other times, you’re left wondering what the character is wondering about, which led me to also stare off a distance and recite some poetry of silence.

Grade: B+

Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, Ray Winstone, David Wenham, John Hurt, David Gulpilil, and Leah Purcell
Screenplay by
Nick Cave
Directed by
John Hillcoat
Rated R for strong grisly violence, and for language