Reports have it that Nick Cave wrote the script to The Proposition very quickly. It's not a knock on the achievement of the film to say that such notions are unsurprising, for Cave's violent, retributive tale is a Down Under version of the cynical, hipster western that has been with us since Marlon Brando tackled the form with One-Eyed Jacks in 1961.
In following the likes of Brando, Peckinpah and Leone, Cave's jaundiced yarn presents a world in which violent outlaws are quite possibly more ethically consistent than the forces of civilization. The film is set in the late 19th century, in the wild country of Western Australia, where whites are busily terrorizing the aborigines, and Irish-born outlaws are running wild in the bush.
In the film's opening scene, Ray Winstone's lawman Captain Stanley makes a terrifying impression on Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), the second of three outlaw brothers. Stanley has Charlie and the innocent Mike in custody, but the big prize is still at large: older brother Arthur (Danny Huston). So Stanley proposes a deal: If Charlie finds and kills his really bad older brother by Christmas Day, the life of Mike will be spared.
Indeed, life is nasty, brutish and short out on the frontier, but these guys prefer to talk about the hippest intellectual of the day, Charles Darwin, than that fusty old Hobbes. Charlie, faced with what might be called a Hobbes-son's choice, ventures out into the wilderness in a kind of Heart of Darkness journey in search of his enigmatic brother. In the meantime, back in town, a subtle and surprising domestic drama unfolds in the household of Captain Stanley, as his beloved wife Martha (Emily Watson) pushes and pushes for information about the criminal proceedings, with dangerous consequences.
In addition to the main players, the top shelf acting talent in this film includes a marvelously creepy turn by John Hurt, as well as an original score by Nick Cave. This is a violent film, and the standard disclaimer would say "Not for the faint of heart." But then, if millions of people could make it through The Passion of the Christ, they'll be able to survive the lacerations of The Proposition. --David Fellerath
The Proposition opens Friday.