"I have a
proposition for you"
After capturing the two members of the notorious Burns Gang,
Captain Stanley (Winstone) is well on the way to bringing order to the Australian
Outback. The major price still alludes him however, the leader of the gang,
the brutal Arthur Burns (Huston). With his younger two brothers in custody,
the Captain makes proposition to Charlie Burns (Pearce). If he kills his
brother in the nine days left until Christmas, his younger brother Mikey
(Wilson) will not be executed.
Tales of cowboys, outlaws and frontier law have been the stable
of many a film set in the American West but people might realise that the
hardship and lawlessness also existed in the Outback of Australia.
Better known for his music with his band 'The Bad Seeds',
Nick Cave turns his highly creative hand to screenwriting to produce a Australian
western that is just as good, if not better than anything Hollywood has
produced over the years. The bleak, desolate and baron outback is everything
the American Wild West ever was and more, filled with the most desperate
Just like any frontier town in the US, lawlessness is rife
and a much-loved family are slaughtered at the hands of a vicious gang.
In the 1880s Queensland, British justice had to fight back and Captain Stanley
was charged with bringing the men responsible to justice. Opening with a
frantic shootout, Charlie and Mikey Burns are captured but it is their older
brother that the authorities want. Arthur Burns, the almost feral older
brother is on the verge of madness, holding out with the rest of the gang
in the middle of the desert. Taking a risk and averting justice, Captain
Stanley agrees to let Charlie go but with a deadly condition, so save his
little brother from the hangman's noose he will have to kill Arthur.
From here on in we are treated to a character driven drama
that shows both sides of the law. Writer Nick Cave and director John Hillcoat
skilfully split the story in two, as we follow Charlie's journey to find
his brother and the repercussions that Captain Stanley has to face for letting
a wanted murderer go. This is where the film really comes into its own.
Both stories are completely riveting, drawing you to the character's predicaments
as they head on a collision course to a bloody and violent conclusion.
The excellent ensemble cast brings some memorable but ultimately
deplorable characters to life. The Burns' Gang are the scrum of the earth.
Vicious and merciless, it takes true acting talent to bring these kinds
of people to life and then make you feel sorry for them. When you find out
the gravity of the crime that the gang committed, you will feel conflicted
and almost ashamed for feeling anything towards these men. Guy Pearce breathes
life into the brooding and lamenting Charlie. After witnessing his brother's
brutally far too many times, he decides to take Mikey and leave his brother's
influence for good. Their capture changes all this however and this is when
Pearce proves again that he is one of the best character actors working
today. Equally as good is Danny Huston. The talented actor is becoming very
adept at creating deplorable characters that you instantly dislike or even
hate. Arthur Burns is a psychopath with absolutely no guilt for what he
has done. Skirting on the edge of madness, Arthur Burns is a tour-de-force
for Huston and a character that will live in the memory for a very long
On the other side of the law are Captain Stanley and his wife
Martha, played by the tremendous Ray Winston and Emily Watson. This family
dynamic reflects the time, with the wife at home taking care of the house
and the husband consumed by his job and not sharing anything with his wife.
It is when Martha's determination to find out what happened to her friend
at the hands of the Burns Gang, that their whole relationship changes. Both
actors are at the height of their game and their chemistry helps them create
some truly believable characters that are affected gravely by the situation
that is engulfing them.
Add to this excellent support from Richard Wilson as Mikey
Burns, Robert Morgan as the deplorable Sgt Lawrence and a scene stealing
turn from John Hurt as bounty hunter Jellon Lamb. David Wenham also appears
as land owner Eden Fletcher but his upper class accent is slightly over
'The Proposition' is as good a Western as anything that Hollywood
has produced in many a year. Up there with 'Unforgiven', this is an uncompromising
view at the Outback frontier that pulls no punches in both violence and
storyline. With gritty and unlikeable characters, this is a tale that might
not appeal to everyone but for fans of the genre this is completely riveting
from bloody start to bloody finish.