Original Review Date: 5/3/2006
The Proposition is the unglamourized West that few Westerns ever show. The characters within this film are not artificially dirty. These people are filthy. Water is primarily used for plants and refreshment only. Most of the people’s teeth are yellow and since tooth paste is not seen as a necessity by the common person, only the upper-class have pearly whites. It is this attention to detail and realism that are immediately apparent within the first few moments of this film’s runtime and what set it apart.
The Proposition stars Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns, a newly retired member of The Burns Gang, which is headed by his older brother, Arthur Burns, played by Danny Huston. After an atrocity perpetrated by The Burns Gang, Charlie has had enough and leaves the gang, taking his younger brother Mike with him. Charlie Burns’ moral dilemma is very subdued but no matter what he’s gone through and endured, he still has some humanity left in him. This is why he can’t take the crimes his brother and his gang perpetrate anymore. Charlie and his younger brother are eventually corned and captured by the army, whom also act as the police in outback Australia during the 1880s, where this story is set. Charlie is offered a deal by Captain Stanley, played by Ray Winstone. Its Winstone’s conflicted Captain who is the most fully rounded character in The Proposition and the person that goes through the largest range of emotions.
I will not go into detail about what this proposition entails but it is seen by the Captain as the ultimate punishment against Arthur for the heinous crimes perpetrated against the Hopkin’s family. Christmas Day has never been more ominous than for what awaits Charlie and Mike Burns on December 25 if the offered deal isn’t accepted. Because of The Burns Gang’s crime, Arthur is referred to by Captain Stanley as an “Abomination” and later when Arthur is casually sitting in a chair as one of his “family” members rapes another character, most will agree that this description isn’t far from the truth.
The Proposition is by no means a perfect movie or the next coming of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Its musical score jumps around at times and is a little distracting as it makes its presence felt during a few scenes. On the positive side, The Proposition offers brutal, unflinching violence and a few memorable sub-characters. One of which is a bounty hunter named Jellon Lamb played by John Hurt, whom has been tracking of The Burns Gang for an undisclosed amount of time. Hurt’s character has traveled the world and shows his advanced education in the dialogue he is given and the literary references he makes.
John Hillcoat’s The Proposition is the type of Western where the good guys do bad things. They can murder and get away with it because they are the law. This may be a prime factor in why the bad guys are such nightmares. They have to be so despicable just to survive the society they are in and the harsh environment. Lamb references Charles Darwin and his theory on evolution during a sit down with Charlie Burns. A more appropriate reference would have been Darwin’s Natural Selection theorem.