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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 39.73%
Average: 2.74%
Pretty Bad: 13.7%
Total Crap: 1.37%

5 reviews, 43 user ratings

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Proposition, The (2006)
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by EricDSnider

"Down Under's version of the lawless Old West."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The sound of buzzing flies can be heard in almost every scene in "The Proposition," an earthy, dust-colored Western set in the Australian frontier circa 1880. Even the outback's more civilized outposts -- the nice houses with lace curtains belonging to British officers' wives -- are beset with it. Grime, disease and death are everywhere.

This violent anti-violence tale, written by gloom-rocker Nick Cave and directed by music-video veteran John Hillcoat, explores the gap between society and savagery with a story that's straight out of the Old West: A man is told that to save one brother's life, he must kill the other one.

The brothers in question are the Burns boys, all outlaws and apparently responsible for a vicious rape and murder that took place not long ago. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his brother Mike (Richard Wilson) have been captured by Capt. Stanley (Ray Winstone), a British commander who seeks to tame this brutal, anarchic land, and Stanley makes the devilish deal with Charlie. Either he find and kill his older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston), believed to be the ringleader, or Mike -- who is younger and mentally slow -- will be hanged.

So Charlie is set free and given nine days to comply, while Mike, bewildered and delirious, languishes in a cell. Charlie doesn't make his intentions known, not to us and certainly not to Stanley, but he does set out in search of Arthur, who turns out to be living in the middle of nowhere with a small posse of devoted followers.

Back in the settlement, Stanley is trying to shield his wife Martha (Emily Watson) from the violence of the land, including his own. She insists she should not be protected, but she probably underestimates just how bad it is out there. She keeps a garden in the middle of this wasteland, a desperate attempt to bring prim English loveliness to the colony, and you get a sense of how frightened and sad she must be, having uprooted herself and moved to this place with her husband.

The film sets up all these dichotomies -- Wild West vs. civilization, family loyalty vs. survival instinct, letter of the law vs. the spirit of it -- and lets us struggle along with the characters for answers, culminating in a suspenseful and bloody finale. Charlie and Arthur arrive at an impasse in their relationship, while Capt. Stanley grapples with his superior, Fletcher (David Wenham), a prim, snooty man who sees no reason to honor Stanley's deal with the Burns boys. Is blood thicker than water? Does a gentlemen's agreement mean anything in this lawless territory?

It's surprising that a film this unflinchingly violent can be so thought-provoking, and that the performances are as fine-tuned as they are. From Guy Pearce's conflicted outlaw, to Ray Winstone's multi-layered peace-keeper, to John Hurt's scene-stealing drunken old Englishman, every member of the ensemble contributes. But while I have no doubt the movie wants to be taken seriously, there are times when the gore seems over-the-top, like a grossly comic slasher flick, and I think: Was that supposed to shock me, or entertain me? Either guess as to Cave and Hillcoat's intentions could be right, and that's part of what makes the film so troubling.

Note: The movie begins with a warning that some indigenous peoples may find the film offensive, as it contains images of people who are now deceased. Why that would offend someone, while the graphic violence that permeates the film would not, is perhaps one of the reasons I did not become an anthropologist.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 02/18/06 17:50:27
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For more in the Australian series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2006 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.
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.

User Comments

2/09/10 Will Tomory Cliched, predictable, laughable gore pore 2 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Great Film! 5 stars
11/03/08 brian Poorly developed, unnecessarily gory, but very well made. 3 stars
5/26/08 mr.mike It was pretty good 4 stars
11/28/07 Edwin Menguin Mesmerising 5 stars
9/23/07 John Howard absolutely superb - Australian drama at its best! 4 stars
8/22/07 harry very good film..the more times you watch it the more you appreciate it 5 stars
8/16/07 Rose Pasibe The is probably the best western I've seen. Jaw dropping!! 5 stars
5/20/07 Derek Fleek Pretty good Australian film 4 stars
10/31/06 Indrid Cold Nick Cave shouldn't quit his day job. Well, actually he should quit that too. 2 stars
10/23/06 John S. here are the "quarters" where it was well recieved: Sundance, NY Times, Boston Globe etc. 5 stars
10/11/06 Lance Not a good film....a GREAT western since 'Unforgiven" 5 stars
10/08/06 daniel excellent western, good guys are not always good, bad guys not necessarily bad 4 stars
9/20/06 James Craig Wow, a real moralistic quagmire. Great! 5 stars
8/31/06 porfle I think it's a great Western. 4 stars
8/19/06 jcjs drop dead wow in action, acting, truth, visual, entertainment, intense, as good as it gets 5 stars
6/11/06 S.K.Adams Stunning, in story and photography. 5 stars
6/10/06 Ole Man Bourbon Not great--kinda wishy-washy 4 stars
6/09/06 Melissa Sonnen fantastic, smart, entertaining 5 stars
5/31/06 Jacqueline Flawed. The good guy is n anarchist racists and the bad guy also. 2 stars
5/30/06 Alissa Love it! 5 stars
5/29/06 Visually stunning, great music, unnecessarily gory and bloodyand difficult to understand 4 stars
5/15/06 Mase Down and dirty, visually stunning but perhaps lacking a soul. Great western aussie flick. 4 stars
5/08/06 chienne Savage & depressing. But very good. 4 stars
5/08/06 lee Great film!!!! 5 stars
4/01/06 MP Bartley Offbeat, but savage, poetic and powerful. Winstone and Watson are superb. 4 stars
3/12/06 Graham A full-on, gory, Gothic, poetic Western, just like how I like 'em. 5 stars
2/20/06 Todahe Well done! 4 stars
11/27/05 Kobbo Good stuff! 5 stars
10/26/05 Bill Fock Outstanding, very violent. 5 stars
10/26/05 Mr Majestic Bleak, gritty, amazing film. Extraordinary. Ray Winstone was GREAT! 5 stars
10/23/05 John Tracey simply great 5 stars
10/15/05 Tom Dutkowski Brutal, Violent, gripping. A story to match the outback landscape. 5 stars
10/08/05 john bale Violent film suggesting a hard land brutalises those trying to tame it. 5 stars
10/08/05 SUzanne Howard Undercooked script & overcooked production. No character development. Boring & clumsy. 2 stars
10/07/05 Danno the Movie Manno Finally a good Aussie film... 5 stars
10/06/05 fred Amazing...A fantastic Film 5 stars
10/03/05 Anna Beautiful, brutal and completely uncompromising in every respect. 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam Intriguing script; superbly cast; intelligently directed; magnificent use of natural design 5 stars
9/25/05 wong kar wai sucks!!! 1 stars
9/22/05 Jane bloody good movie - not typically my preference but the movie makes more than up for that 5 stars
9/02/05 Jim Johnson Awesome movie, with even more awesome soundtrack by Cave, check it out. 5 stars
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  05-May-2006 (R)
  DVD: 19-Sep-2006



Directed by
  John Hillcoat

Written by
  Nick Cave

  Tom Budge
  Guy Pearce
  Emily Watson
  Ray Winstone
  David Wenham
  John Hurt

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