The Proposition John Hillcoat

Written by Nick Cave, The Proposition is a sparse western set in outback Australia in the 1880s. In the wake of a horrific killing of a family, newly appointed lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) sets out to "civilise” his new territory by going after the perpetrators, an elusive group led by Arthur Burns (Danny Huston).

After a bloody shoot-out, Stanley catches Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his slow-witted brother Mike (Richard Wilson), both of whom have recently escaped their eldest brother's gang. The Captain offers Charlie the titular proposition — he can either find and kill his older brother or watch his younger brother be executed. Charlie chooses the former, and sets off across the unforgiving terrain to reunite with Arthur.

Everything about this movie is harsh and bare: the landscape, the story, the dialogue and the characters. Nick Cave’s musical score is amazing and haunting, complementing the film’s tone perfectly. The film is well shot and the story compelling, but there are many, many moments of extremely graphic violence that make it quite difficult to watch. It's the kind of violence that seems so realistic that it's vaguely sickening.

The excellent cast manages to put a lot of humanity into their deeply flawed characters. Pearce gives an intense performance as the closest thing to a moral centre this dark tale has. Huston is a charismatic villain, which makes his evil acts all the more disturbing. A grizzled John Hurt offers a memorable cameo as Jellon Lamb, a bounty hunter drinking his way into oblivion in the middle of nowhere. The relationship between Captain Stanley and his wife (played by Emily Watson) is well drawn and gives the film some brief moments of sweetness.

Ultimately, though, The Propostion shows a lot of awful people doing horrible things with only slight redemption in the end. (Maple)