Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Proposition

"Ah Australia. What fresh hell is this?"

After a gang commits a horrific crime in 1880s Australia, local Police Captain (Ray Winstone) offers to spare the lives of two Burns’ brothers if one of them, Charlie (Guy Pearce) kills their older brother Arthur (Danny Huston) who was responsible for the crime. As the youngest brother (Richard Wilson) rots in jail with his execution looming, Charlie has just nine days to track down Arthur and bring his body to the Captain.

The film’s opening titles show original photos mixed with stills from the set which are made to look aged. This is a nice little touch which helps to create the period setting. The look and feel of late Victorian Australia is captured wonderfully with a mixture of fantastic sets, costumes and locations. There is a fabulous juxtaposition between the Captain’s little bubble and the rest of the film’s locations. He often remarks that “I will tame this land” and his house, garden and wife look as though they have been neatly dropped from a London suburb. Outside of this however the land is sweaty, dusty and grim. People are unwashed and clothes are stained brown and torn.

The cinematography is quite stunning. French cinematographer BenoƮt Delhomme has created scenes which are beautiful to look at. The internal shots are well dressed while externally the world is both forbidding but picturesque. If anything the wonderful vistas are overly relied on and as a result the plot suffers.

For much of the film Guy Pearce’s strand of the story lacked plot and character development. We basically watched him ride through the outback in front of pretty views. It took a long time to go anywhere and then when it did it was over in a flash. There was only one scene of his which I really enjoyed and that was when he came across an old drunk played magnificently by John Hurt. Even when he caught up with his brother the story felt stagnated. Ray Winstone’s strand of the plot felt much more interesting. He had to juggle his wife’s wishes and struggle acclimatizing as well as keeping her safe and restraining a town that is baying for blood. I could have dropped Guy Pearce’s story altogether and happily watched a film about the Captain and his wife in the harsh Australian outback. The ending was a little predictable but I really liked how the Captain awaited what was coming and his wife’s words as they sat down to Christmas Dinner were inspired. In addition to the two central strands the depiction of Aboriginal characters was excellent. It showed how some had tried to mix with the whites, how some were like slaves/servants and how some still kept fighting the invaders. The film also doesn’t shy away from racism which I felt was justified.

The acting was all around excellent but it was John Hurt who really stood out. He was only in two scenes but stole the film. I wish his character had been given a larger role. Ray Winstone was also very good, playing something similar to his usual characters but distinct enough to feel different. He and his wife played by Emily Watson appeared to have great chemistry and their scenes were great. The Burns’ brothers were all good; Richard Wilson was almost childlike while Danny Huston was evil personified. Guy Pearce had the most fleshed out character but still felt as though he was always in the background. We didn’t learn much about him or his motivations but he was convincing.

While Nick Cave’s script was lacking a little, his score was interesting and worked really well. It features violinist Warren Ellis and the two went on to write the score for The Assassination of Jesse James... Director John Hillcoat who was also behind the camera for The Road gets some great performances from his cast and has created a beautiful looking film which is unfortunately let down by a slightly boring script.     


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