The Proposition review

            Westerns are meant to be brutal to an extent. They are, after all, films about the wild and the untamed, so it makes sense for the characters to act this way. The Proposition truly is a violently brutal film, but what makes it the best western I have seen in years is the fact that the filmmakers know how to show these despicable acts in the wild lands that they take place without trying to use the violence to entertain. As soon as violence becomes a form of entertainment in a film, it simply becomes an exploitation piece, and then the viewers are brought down to an uncivilized level that a true western shows as a cause for the violence in the first place. The Proposition carefully balances incredible beauty of the landscape with minimal violence, so that the message makes it to the end of the film far stronger than it might have if entertainment had been the only reason for making it.

            The Proposition takes place in the lawless land of the 1880s Australian outback, where a group of renegade Irish brothers are wanted for the rape and murder of an innocent pregnant woman. Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has set out to civilize the outback by any means rather than the best means, so when he gets a hold of Charlie and Mikey Burns, the younger two of the three brothers, he makes a proposition to Charlie (Guy Pearce). He tells Charlie that he will kill Mikey if Arthur, the oldest brother and brutal ring leader of the clan, is not dead within nine days. Charlie sets out on the impossible mission to kill one brother, who is quite simply insane as well as an experienced killer, in order to save his younger innocent brother.

            At first it seems as though Captain Stanley is the obvious villain of the story, unafraid to pistol whip Mikey just to get the attention of his older brother, but soon after we see a different side of him and are forced to change our opinion of who he is. First impressions are even more important in film, and our first impression of Captain Stanley is awful, but he spends the rest of the film working hard to make things right, just as Charlie is forced to as well. The real villains in the film are not Charlie or Stanley, but the two extreme sides that they fall in between.

            Nick Cave’s haunting score fits perfectly into the script he wrote as well, most often played during sunsets, which there seem to be an abundance of in the film. Nearly the entire film seems to be shot during the magic hour, providing some fantastic cinematography that set the mood for a film which feels as if it could take place on another planet. Although the moments in which our “hero” is silhouetted and raises his gun to the sky with the setting sun behind him are quite beautiful, they also dance dangerously close to being self indulgent. Still, they allow for a nice break in between the more brutal points of the film.

            Many would say that the western is a dead genre, and the fact that Hollywood has commercialized the west would be a good argument for this, but I still love a good western, as rare as they are. This is what westerns were meant to be. The setting itself is a character, wild and unmanageable. The reason we don’t enjoy traditional westerns as much anymore is because what was once considered untamable has been tamed in the United States. The setting in The Proposition may not be traditional to westerns, but it is also far better than any attempts in years. It has all of the elements of a great western, but more importantly, it has the heart and soul of a western.


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