The Proposition is set in the Australian outback in 1880. In those days, people didn't visit Australia like they do now. If you were there, you were probably sent there - more than likely for breaking a law or disgracing your family.
One such person is Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone), a police captain intent on making the outback a civilised place to live. With him is his loyal wife Martha (played by the in form Emily Watson) - and together, they live a life as close to the idyllic one they must have had in England complete with country garden and servant.
Everything turns for the worse though when the Captains men capture Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his brother Mikey (Richard Wilson). On the run is their psychotic brother Arthur, the leader of the Irish Burns gang responsible for murders, rapes and other hideous crimes across the region.
It seems that the prize capture is the escaped brother - so the Captain puts a proposition to Charlie - go out into the wild and kill your older brother or your younger one will hang on Christmas Day by the neck until he is dead...
The townsfolk are not best pleased however. What gives the Captain the right to barter with criminals? They want blood and they're not prepared to wait for it...meanwhile, Charlie is severely injured by an Aborigine spear while out looking for his brother. He's found and nursed back to health by his brothers Aborigine wife.
In a twist of fate, Charlie seems to have welched on his side of the bargain when bounty hunter Jellom Lamb (John Hurt) attempts to claim the reward on Arthurs head...
Back in the town, the locals have gotten hold of young Mikey and under the pretence of the owner of the town, Eden Fletcher (played by David Wenham), seem intent on carrying out their own form of justice.
Christmas Day comes and as Captain Stanley and his good lady sit down to a feast, hell breaks into their house in the form of the Burns gang intent on revenge for what happened to Mikey. Now down to two plus a couple of henchmen, will Charlie deliver on the Captains proposition and murder his kin or will he turn on the policeman and his good lady and continue his reign of terror...?
The Proposition is a fantastic movie - if a little slow paced at times. Director John Hillcoat has dared to take the western theme from the United States and set it in his homeland. And it works. A far bleaker place on the planet I cannot imagine. The people that were sent there for whatever reason back in the 1880s found it hard to acclimatise to the heat and harshness of the territory and often died very young. Hillcoat does his best to show this in his film and even includes in the opening titles pictures of actual graves from the time. Alcohol also paid its part in the demise of a lot of young people and again this is depicted in the film. Captain Stanley's men are really nothing but a bunch of drunken yobbos intent on causing as much harm and destruction as the Burns gang themselves.
Also in the opening titles is a warning that some people watching may find the contents racially offensive. This is because that at the time the film is set, the “white man” used every excuse in the book to round up and slaughters the native Australians - namely the Aborigines. The poor treatment that they received is well documented and this particular film does well to highlight their plight.
The performances from the cast are nothing short of exemplary - each and every one of them. Guy Pearce, an Australian playing an Irishman in Australia, is nothing short of brilliant in every scene he's in. Looking painfully thin and gaunt, he steals every scene. His character has a painful decision to make and when he makes it you can see the relief in his eyes as the weight is lifted from his shoulders.
Ray Winstone, big burly cockney Ray. His character is on an impossible mission to civilise the place. The more he tries, the more he's let down by his drunken men. His authority as the law is severely put into doubt when the townsfolk decide to implore their own justice on Mikey - and Ray, in my opinion, put in the performance of his life here. His love for his wife, played by Emily Watson, appears to have been his downfall back home and is why he has been exiled to this God forsaken land.
And of course his wife Martha loves him just as much. She's followed her man to the other side of the world to be with him. The pain and anguish she goes through when she has to betray her man and side with the townsfolk is brilliantly portrayed by Watson, an actress so evidently on top her game here. I rate her so much as an actress that when I first her in Equilibrium, I thought she was actually blind...whoops.
John Hurt plays the role that apparently the rest of the cast wanted - that of bounty hunter Jellom Lamb - and he has a ball playing a vile unwashed stinking heathen intent on taking human life for financial reward. However, Hurt doesn't seem to be ageing well and the detail on this disc shows up his ageing features a lot more than was probably intended - more later.
This film is dirty - so dirty that you'll be dashing upstairs for a shower afterwards. Stinking unwashed human beings festooned by millions of flies, heads blown off, body's speared, thick life sapping mud. Everything about it shouts filth and hard living.
The makers and cast have done a sterling job bringing this story to the silver screen firstly and now to a little blue box that each and every film lover out there should have in their collection.
Recommended without caveat.
Our Review Ethos