Most western movies I’ve seen have cowboys ride around saving towns and getting into dusty gun battles that end with the outlaw or corrupt sheriff sprawled on the ground with a gunshot, or twelve, to keep them there.
These movies seldom show the grim and ugly reality that was frontier living. “The Proposition,” set in the Australian outback, shears away the romanticism and moves with a lean, bruising pace that made me wince more than once.
What works well is the realism in the “The Proposition.” Everything and everyone is covered in dirt. The principal actors are covered in flies and town folk wear flies like a second set of clothing.
Guy Pearce (“Memento,” “L.A. Confidential”), looking gaunt as ever, plays outlaw Charlie Burns with conviction.
He has to choose between killing his older brother, Arthur, a maniacal psychopath, or if failing to do that, his younger brother will be executed.
Pearce’s character is always calculating the risk of killing his older brother. In a scene where Arthur is slowly killing a bounty hunter sent to kill him, Charlie has chance to kill while Arthur’s back is turned.
The calculating is clear on Charlie’s face as he aims at Arthur’s back. No one else in the gang is around. Pulling the trigger is easy but doing it to a brother, not so easy.
The director, John Hillcoat, gives a lot of time to developing Captain Stanley, played by Ray Winston, the character who makes the proposition of killing Arthur in exchange for the younger brother’s life.
Winston gives emotional depth to what could been a one-dimensional character bent on stopping a murderous gang.
The toll of trying to maintain control of the situation is evident when he rests his head in his wife’s (Emily Watson, “Angela’s Ashes”) lap after being overcome with a massive headache.
The music in “The Proposition” is interesting because it can’t be classified in one category.
Nick Cave, who wrote the screenplay and music for the movie, mixed classical music with some techno to make a unique score. Portions of the movie had spoken word over the mix of techno/rock/classical soundtrack.
One thing that was annoying about the film was the way it cut members of Arthur’s gang who were shown for while but for some reason are not seen again.
What happened to these characters? Scenes were not where they should have been. Either bad editing or they forgot to write them in; it is just kind of weird.
Overall the outback setting and gritty realism of the movie pulled me into the movie as it bulldozed its way to a brutal and unconventional ending that would make most Hollywood executives squirm in their seats thinking about how to market a movie that has originality in a film industry that thrives on formula and blockbuster hits.