Worth A Look: 39.73%
Pretty Bad: 13.7%
Total Crap: 1.37%
5 reviews, 43 user ratings
|Proposition, The (2006)
by Scott Weinberg
SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: White-hatted good guys and cartoonishly sneering villains work really well when you're doing a "Die Hard"-type action flick, but when it comes to historical dramas based on controversial events, it's always nice to witness a group of filmmakers willing to dabble in shades of gray. John Hillcoat & Nick Cave's "The Proposition" is one example of a movie in which you really have very little idea who to "root" for ... and I mean that as a rather large compliment.Guy Pearce is a late-19th century Australian outlaw known as Charlie Burns. Ray Winstone is Captain Stanley, one of the men charged with bringing law and order to the country's untamed plains. Seems like a pretty straightforward story so far, right? As an audience, we should want the representative of law and order to eradicate the evildoers, yes?
"...and you thought America's Civil War was ugly!"
Well, maybe. And since The Proposition is based on actual events, it's really great to see that the story is brought to cinematic life with a sort of duality; Winstone's a good guy in many respects ... but not all. And Burns is a noble, loyal fellow ... who's also been (at least partially) responsible for some truly heinous crimes.
Sort of an anti-Western history lesson that sticks you right in the middle of the action without any kind of blueprint or signposts, The Proposition is a blisteringly violent, visually stunning, and morally ambiguous tale of revenge, hatred, loyalty, and honor -- although not necessarily in that order.
As the film opens, Charlie and his generally innocent little brother have been captured by Captain Stanley, and the no-nonsense lawman offers Charlie a truly difficult proposition: Come back with the head of his brother Arthur (a man known for his particularly vicious ways) or little brother Mikey will swing from the noose. To Stanley it seems like a no-lose proposition; even if Charlie refuses to return with proof of his older brother's demise, he still has the young one to offer to his overseers. Not surprisingly, the Captain's superior (the truly oily Eden Fletcher, as played by David Wenham) doesn't exactly see things this way.
And then there's the softer and possibly more moral side of Stanley, which is in evidence whenever he's dealing with his dainty wife Martha (Emily Watson). Charlie, on the other hand, is predictably conflicted about what to do; he seems well aware that Arthur deserves whatever punishment is coming down the pike, but still -- it's not easy to sentence your own brother to death.
These are the sort of prickly morality issues that are tossed about in The Proposition, and they serve to elevate the film well beyond that of a mere action film or hoary old history lesson. The filmmakers know that there are two sides to every story, and when a civil war is involved, perhaps even more than just two.
The Proposition grabs you from the very first scene, one in which we're plunked right down into the middle of a ferocious gun battle; the viewer has no idea who's shooting at whom, nor do we have a chance to side with any of the gunslingers. And once Stanley manages to cart Charlie and Mikey away, things get even more uncertain. In most movies, the lawmen are on the side of right, and the prisoners are rightfully punished. Here, all bets are off. The heroes are as devious as anyone, and the villains maintain their own strict code of morality.Visually gorgeous, stunningly violent, and entirely gripping throughout, "The Proposition" brings to life a portion of Australia's violent history that you probably know nothing about. And while the film might leave you with just any many new questions as it does answers, well, that's why we have libraries, history books, and encyclopedias.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12771&reviewer=128
originally posted: 09/15/05 01:54:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2006 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.