Movie of the Day – The Proposition
December 23, 2011 Leave a comment
I have wanted to talk about this movie for a while now and while this is a 10-day long Christmas post stretch I am conducting right now, I can wiggle this movie into the rotation of holiday movies. Death, violence, revenge, despair, isolation, anger, and a myriad of other depressing words are not the typical holiday movie. Actually those words describe no holiday in any country. No the only thing that this movie has connecting it to the holiday of Christmas is that Dec. 25th is used as an ultimatum day for one man, either find the killer or watch you brother hang. Not something of an uplifting story for Christmas, but then again this movie is as brutal as they come.
An outlaw is goaded into taking on justice at its most brutal in this hard-edged Western set in rural Australia in the 1880s. Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is a criminal living in the outback. He and his two brothers, Arthur (Danny Huston) and Mikey (Richard Wilson), are on the run from the law for rape and murder. Arthur is a violent and dangerous sociopath with a much longer rap sheet than his siblings and a reputation for hiding out in villages so lawless the police are afraid to visit them, while Mikey is a much younger and more impressionable chap.
The authorities capture Charlie and Mikey after a bloody shootout, and the brothers are handed over to Capt. Stanley (Ray Winstone), a British lawman sent to Australia to help bring order to the colonies. Stanley proposes a deal to Charlie, explaining that it’s Arthur he really wants, and that he’s willing to spare the childlike and terrified Mikey if Charlie can find Arthur and murder him. Charlie, realizing that this is his only hope to save his simpleton younger brother (who is scheduled to be hanged on Christmas Day), agrees and sets out to find and execute his other brother, who he believes has gone too far into the world of crime. As Charlie scours the backwaters of Australia, he encounters Jellon Lamb (John Hurt), an educated yet thoroughly menacing bounty hunter. In time, Charlie finds his brother, but isn’t certain if he can carry out his mission. Meanwhile, Stanley struggles to bring a European sense of civility to the rough and tumble land he now calls home, while his wife Martha (Emily Watson) becomes the focus of the lustful appetites of the men in town. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
Now I am big fan of western films. I have written about a few of them so far, but while the setting of the Western is more about the lawless nature of man and pacifying the wicked, The Proposition is just completely barren and brutal. There is no happiness to be found in this movie, not from the harsh setting of the Australian outback nor the devious people that inhabit the land on which they scratch a living. No, life is essentially meaningless to some and cherished as a commodity by others. The movie makes you think about the heartless nature of man, when so much violence and disgust can turn even a righteous man to turn sour. It’s an unflinching view on a world without any real hope, just despair. A world filled with ruthless men and those that try to get by and make a decent shot at life.
It’s not a depressing movie, as much as my descriptions of the move might lead you to believe. It’s a harsh movie to watch with the seemingly endless parade of villains and lack of morale fortitude. Even the hero of the movie Charlie Burns is a devious person, one who is part of a gang that rapes and kills, but it wasn’t done by his hand, rather the hand of his brother Arthur, played amazingly by Danny Huston. It’s weird, knowing that you are watching a movie with no good guys in it, rather just evil men having to extract evil from the lands. Even Captain Stanley isn’t the most swell person out there, choosing to pacify and civilize the land of Australia and bring order to the colonies that are there. It’s a hopeless statement that ultimately comes to fruition in the movie. Even the ending offers no real sight of hope nor is there a lick of happiness. The film starts with death and ends with death.
If you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy, then this movie will remind you a lot of the book “Blood Meridian”. It really is the harshest book to sit through and the parallels between that book and The Proposition are staggering. Characterizations and thematic elements are abound and tightly related. It might take you two viewings to really get through the movie, with the violence and unadulterated portrayal of it might be a bit much on the first go. The Proposition is not restrained when it comes to the story it wants to tell. The characters are vicious, even when they try to find some semblance of peace and calm. The unforgiving setting of Australia almost becomes a character itself, with the arid, baked land offering no visible sign of safety and comfort. What we are watching is a society trying to find its way, one where the evil of men is only enhanced when placed in the barren land. No hope for a future in sight, violence turns savage and a quest to try and pacify the lands is the only way to bring about change. Evil fighting evil.