(Special Presentations, Australia/United Kingdom, 104 minutes)
Directed by John Hillcoat
Screenplay by Nick Cave
Cast: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, David Wenham, Emily Watson, Richard Wilson
With the stunningly beautiful and frighteningly violent “The Proposition,” director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (yes, he of The Bad Seeds) bring to vivid life the unforgiving Australian Outback of the late 1800s with an uncompromising story of the struggle between order and savagery in a desolate, isolated land.
Outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) has been terrorizing the area with his brothers Mikey (Richard Wilson) and Arthur (Danny Huston). When Charlie is captured with the younger, vulnerable Mikey by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), a deal is offered: Stanley promises not to execute Mikey if Charlie brings in the more dangerous Arthur. Faced with an impossible choice, Charlie must confront his own past and reconcile his complicity with Arthur’s poetic but psychotic nature as the ramifications of the deal play out. Stanley, on the other hand, struggles with the pressures from above to maintain law and order while his wife (Emily Watson) fends off despair and loneliness at their farmhouse. As the story builds to their inevitable showdown, the tension is skillfully wound, making the explosive climax all the more devastating.
More like “Unforgiven” than “High Noon,” “The Proposition” is gritty, sweaty, and grim, but often reaches to heights of poetic vision, in its brilliant direction, its gorgeous cinematography by Benoit Delhomme and in its well-crafted screenplay. Performances are first-rate, led by Pearce’s morally ambivalent Charlie and Winstone’s crumbling Captain Stanley. “The Proposition” is a real treat, but unfortunately without a North American release date. Hopefully it’ll find its way to theatres soon.