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The Proposition

A few nights back I finally watched The Proposition, which I liked.

The film is probably known most due to its script, which was written by Nick Cave, the musician. It is certainly not known as a John Hillcoat film, since, I believe, this is his first film, and that he had spent his time early making music videos. It is possible that people could know it due to Guy Pearce or Ray Winstone, but I think most of the draw to the film is, and remains, the involvement of Cave. He and Dirty Three member Warren Ellis provide the score for the film, which is really quite beautiful. Certainly, I have to admit that Cave was my draw.

As I said, I liked the film. It's flawed, which I will get to in a moment, but what I liked most about the film was how it portrayed Australia, all dry and worn out yellows and browns, the bright light bleeding everywhere, turning it into a harsh but strangely beautiful place. When Winstone's British born Captain Stanley looks out a window in the first stages of the film, and says, "What fresh hell is this?" it is almost as if the film takes it upon itself to answer that question, and does so, right up until the end.

In this way, the Proposition reminds me rather of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, with its stunning visuals:

"At dusk of the third day they rode into the town of Corralitos, the horses shuffling through the caked ash and the sun glaring redly through the smoke. The smelter chimneys were ranged against an ashen sky and the globy lights of the furnaces glowered under the dark of the hills. It had rained int he day and the window lights of the low mud houses were reflected in pools along the flooded road out of which great dripping swine rose moaning before the advancing horses like oafish demons routed from a fen. The houses were loopholed and parapeted and the air was filled with the fumes of arsenic."

Since that thought occurred to me early on, the Proposition became more about visuals, and touring through the newly named, newly invaded Australia, and was not so much about the narrative of the film.

Which is probably why I liked it, since the narrative is probably the weakest part of the film. In a tin shack brothel, Charlie Burns and his brother Mikey are captured by Captain Stanley. The Burns gang has become notable for the horrific raping and killing of a family some months prior, but the events of which have also driven two of the Burns brothers to split from the third, Arthur Burns, who resides in the hills with a black man and woman, a sweet sounding white boy, and his dog. It is this Burns, a kind of mysterious, but ultimately callous killer, who Stanley wants brought to justice, having figured that it was he who was responsible for the attack. To that extent, he offers Charlie, the lean, pale, deathly looking Guy Pearce, the chance to save his young brother by going into the hills and doing what he cannot: kill Arthur Burns.

The premise is fine and excellent, but the real problem with the film is that Pearce's character does not engage with his brother. He is too passive, too withdrawn, and his brother, played by John Huston, too lost in his mysterious man routine, talking about the beautiful land, for you to much care about what is going to happen between the pair of them. You know, at any rate, the Charlie is not going to kill his brother in the hills, and that the Burns Gang is going to ride into the town to rescue Mikey, the younger brother, so why bother wasting time playing the maybe card in the middle of the film?

Fortunately for the film, Ray Winstone is there as Captain Stanley, and as is often the way, Winstone delivers an excellent performance to lift a film where it is otherwise failing. As the troubled, isolated captain who wants to bring civilisation to the land, Winstone is the centre of the film, and he is complimented in this by Emily Watson as his lonely, equally isolated wife. The two provide the centre of the film, and the growing tragedy that is going to befall them when the Burns Gang rides in to rescue Mikey is what keeps it going.

It is, as I said, a good film. Cave shows that he can put a good script down, though he could have lost a few characters, and restrained himself with Arthur Burns; but he and Ellis also deliver a great score, and this compensates any failings of the script, I feel. The look of the film and the acting, outside Huston's Arthur Burns, is also good. Most of the faults of the film can be found in how it has been pieced together, and the occasional clunky, lost pace, and one can't help but think that if it had been in the hands of a more competent director, that the Proposition would have been a really great film, rather than a good one.


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Aug. 24th, 2006 02:20 am (UTC)
Yep, I agree. Visually impressive, but the Arthur and Charlie characters are too two-dimensional to be truly effective, and the film revels does lose pace too often. Winstone and Watson are very good. Like you said, a good film that missed its potential to be great.

Do you have a favourite Western? Unforgiven is mine, I think. Good story, authentic, great characters, excellent performances (esp. by Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett) and I love the soundtrack.
Aug. 24th, 2006 02:26 am (UTC)
it's probably either one the leone westerns, either the eastwood ones, or ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, which i like for its strong female character (sadly missing in a lot of westerns). or THE WILD BUNCH. depends on the day, really, but today i'm thinking it's THE WILD BUNCH.
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
The Wild Bunch rocks.

I'm watching The Return of the Magnificent Seven at the moment, which is... somewhat less than Magnificent. (Although Yul Brynner has leaped to the top of my "Grant's Favourite Cowboys" list.)
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:29 am (UTC)
dude, even the first one wasn't magnificent. i even think there's a third one, but by this time, even yul wasn't coming back. and there was a TV show! i barely remember that though. i seem to remember thinking it wasn't so bad, but who knows.

perhaps of most interest, margaret weis actually wrote a series of space opera books with her husband, don perrin, based of the magnificient seven. mag force seven, was the name. their leader was a cybord called xris (pronounced chris). they were actually really quite fun. they came out of the star of the guardians series she wrote--the cyborg and his band of poisoners and mercenaries and men who have had sex change operations appear in the last two. probably the only good ting to come out of those movies and kurosawa's truly fine film.
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:34 am (UTC)
There are four of them in total, plus two seasons of the Michael Biehn TV drama.
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:36 am (UTC)
you seen the tv series?
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:39 am (UTC)
Never - I saw the first season was available locally, but don't really want to risk $40 on nine episodes of something that could be really bad.
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Aug. 24th, 2006 04:46 am (UTC)
The Seven Samurai is better than The Magnificent Seven, and even that isn't that good. Yojimbo, on the other hand, is incredibly awesome. Have yet to see any of the early western remakes (e.g. A Fistful of Dollars). Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis wasn't too bad (at least it was redeemed by the sterling Ry Cooder soundtrack).
Aug. 24th, 2006 04:48 am (UTC)
The Seven Samurai is better than The Magnificent Seven, and even that isn't that good.

Now go sit on the naughty mat and think about what you said.
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Aug. 24th, 2006 04:55 am (UTC)
you're on crack :P

THE SEVEN SAMURAI is fantastic. one of kurosawa's best films, i think. better than YOJIMBO and its sequel SANJURO. in fact, in truth, i kind of prefer the leonie remake, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS to kurosawa's--there are some small changes made to the character that makes the film flow better. sure, eastwood is no mifune, but it's a better film.

LAST MAN STANDING is the weakest of the bunch. it's an alright little b-film, but it walter hill cannot make a film against kurosawa or leonie.
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Aug. 24th, 2006 03:01 am (UTC)
"It is certainly not known as a John Hillcoat film, since, I believe, this is his first film, and that he had spent his time early making music videos"

Relatively famously, Hillcoat made Ghosts of the Civil Dead, also a Cave collaboration (acting a deranged prisoner). And another one I think. Anyway I identify this film as a Cave-Hillcoat collaboration in my mind.

I thought Pearce's character's unwillingness to engage with his brother was pretty convincing actually. Since he knows his brother, despite his romantic self-image, is basically psychotic and full of shit.
Aug. 24th, 2006 03:09 am (UTC)
ah. right. i forgot about the ghosts thing. ah well. he's still not a director i'd rush out to watch.

i ddi think pearce's unwillingness came across, but i think if he had been less passive in it that it would have made that part of the film a bit more interesting. also, if huston could have stopped chewing on the scenerary...
Aug. 24th, 2006 03:23 am (UTC)
Yeah, if they'd been different characters it would've been more interesting. If Huston's character had been more likable, ultimately ...

It wasn't a great film. But it was a very solid film. On that I think I agree with you very closely. I thought the single biggest problem was its thematic weakness. I wanted a point if not a moral to the story - other than "gee the world is pointless".

It's dodgy to say this but I appreciated the way Aborigines were portrayed in the movie. I thought the way the white and black characters interacted was a perceptive model precursor of the paternal/deliquent relationship of oppression that currently exists between whites and Aboriginals in Australia. There were things to object to in the depiction no doubt.
Aug. 24th, 2006 03:35 am (UTC)
see, i found the thematic link. for me it was essentially a tour through the fresh new hell, you know? a snapshot of the formation of a country under british rule.

i did appreciate the way aboriginals were portrayed, actually. one of my favourite scenes was when huston and his black friend (i forget his name, if it's even mentioned in the film) kill the cop, and as they leave, the black turns to the tracker and calls him a dog. i don't know why. it just struck me as a tiny authentic moment. on the DVD i've got there is a doco about respecting aboriginal heritage, but i managed to watch only half of it before it shat me off with its insane political correctness.
Aug. 24th, 2006 05:58 am (UTC)
There's a DVD with special features? I thought the one that was out had none (and was thus waiting for decent release).
Aug. 24th, 2006 06:07 am (UTC)
oddly enough, it doesn't say it on the case, but yeah, it's got a featurette. one. it's pretty poor, though. there's no commentary track or anything that i saw.
Aug. 24th, 2006 06:10 am (UTC)
I hope there is a better release, though it's possible Hillcoat and Cave are the sort (like David Lynch) who think all such things are superfluous.
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Aug. 24th, 2006 05:56 am (UTC)
Cave also co-wrote Ghosts...

Hillcoat did another movie (To Have and To Hold, I believe) which Cave did the soundtrack for.
Aug. 24th, 2006 08:36 am (UTC)
Funny, I finally got around to watching this about a week ago as well. I've been meaning to for some time.

I was unaware that Cave had done the soundtrack, but I was also fairly ignorant about the whole film other than the basic premise. I'm going to pretty much echo exactly what you said now, 'cos I think it's spot on... (I Agree With Ben Peek badges, anyone?)

The film is beautifully shot. Australia is an amazing place, and I just don't think Neighbours does it justice. Maybe Home and Away does... anyhow, The Proposition does exactly what you say with it's lingering shots and long, wide, sweeping glances.

One of my favourite parts was the poetic little "No said the cloud with the blah blah blah whatever" bits. I wanted to know who wrote that. Now I do. Cheers!

All in all I wish I'd bought it instead of rented. Now I'm going to have to wait until it's cheap and buy it...
Aug. 24th, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)
i don't think anyone would buy those badges ;)

i bought it on the cheap, and i'm pleased i did. though i really have to get back into the habit of renting. jeez. if onyl the rental place round here was better.
Aug. 24th, 2006 10:17 am (UTC)
The Proposition I liked. I liked it even more when I found out that the poor bastards were filming in period costume, including heavy coats, during a 45 degree plus heatwave.
Aug. 24th, 2006 11:59 am (UTC)
yeah, i read something about everyone being hand made, traditional wear. some of it looked cool, i thought.
Aug. 25th, 2006 02:22 pm (UTC)
John Hillcoat
Hillcoat also did a movie in the late 80s called Ghosts of the Civil Dead, which was recently released on DVD. I believe Cave also scripted, and it's received some good reviews.
Aug. 25th, 2006 02:23 pm (UTC)
Apologies – somehow I missed the 50! other posts.
Aug. 26th, 2006 05:52 am (UTC)
Re: Err...sorry
heh. it's cool. don't worry about it.
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