VOD film review: The Proposition (2005)
Ivan Radford | On 13, Aug 2019
Director: John Hillcoat
Cast: Guy Pearce, Richard Wilson, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, Emily Watson
Watch The Proposition online in the UK: BFI Player
From The Road to Lawless, John Hillcoat has established himself as a director with a knack for intense, brutal storytelling and brooding characters. Before both of those striking efforts came The Proposition, and the 2005 Western sees the Queensland helmer perfectly at home in cinema’s most sun-baked genre.
The film is set in 1880s Australia, and from its opening credits doesn’t shy away from the messiness of the country’s empire-building history. The first scene is a shootout that sees a gang almost entirely wiped out – a foreboding indication of the world that we’re about to enter – with the exception of two brothers, Charlie (Guy Pearce) and Mikey (Richard Wilson). This is a tale of family and loyalty, one that is hooked on the simple notion of betrayal. The brothers are given a deal by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone): track down their older brother, Arthur (Danny Huston) and kill him, and Charlie and Mikey can go free. Fail to kill him, and Mikey gets it.
And so the stage is set for an intimate, inevitable showdown, a moral dilemma that will define the identity of these men. As Charlie goes on the hunt, he crosses paths with a veteran bounter hunter (played with spitting relish by John Hurt), who immediately taunts Charlie about his Irish heritage. We also spend time with Captain Stanley’s resilient wife, played by the always-excellent Emily Watson, and hear how the Indigenous Australians refer to Arthur as a dog.
The result, from David Wenham’s stern Eden Fletcher trying to establish order and justice to Huston’s savage villainy, is one that questions the cost of violence on a personal scale. Hillcoat films it all with garish violence that recalls Sam Peckinpah and an eye for the beautiful but bleak outback backdrop, lit up by a blood-red sun. Underneath it all, Nick Cave provides an atmospheric, sombre score that strums in tune with his script. There’s a sadness to the spectacle, a humanity to the hardboiled action and heart to go with the gritty brains.
The Proposition is available now on BFI Player, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription.