Despite its ultra-violent content, this graphic revenge tale boasts a stellar cast, strong script and dead-on direction, successfully carving out its own niche in the crowded world of shoot "em up Westerns.
Writer/musician Nick Cave"s story transports us right into the gritty world of the 1880"s Australian Outback, where the current residents of this unforgiving land live in daily fear of the savage Burns Brother"s gang. It is after an intense gun battle that Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), a British imperialist soldier hired to bring down the gang, captures middle brother, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson). Charlie is then given The Proposition: hunt down and kill eldest brother Arthur (Danny Huston), who spearheads a deranged motley crew of outlaws, or younger brother Mikey will hang on Christmas day. As Charlie sets out on his impossible journey, things begin to fall apart. Captain Stanley"s leadership and judgment come into question by the town, while at the same time, his loving wife Martha"s (Emily Watson) state of mind rapidly begins to deteriorate.
The acting in this all-star international cast is an absolute delight. Winstone (King Arthur) is amazing as the tattered Captain Stanley, questioning his own morality and the very idea of justice he once believed in. On the other hand, Pearce (L.A. Confidential), whose ambivalent Charlie Burns is equally tortured, is also starved of anything that resembles love and/or warmth. Only his blubbering younger brother Mikey gets to him, and although well played by Wilson, he comes off a touch too whimpering and whiney. The great John Hurt gives a memorable performance as a seedy, drunken killer just as depraved as the men he hunts. And Watson (Punch-Drunk Love) is stunning and luminous as the Captain"s fish-out-of-water wife. Huston (The Constant Gardener), son of the great director John Huston, completely transforms himself into the monstrous Arthur Burns, a skewed, hairier version of Brando"s Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, who likes to recite obscure poetry while enjoying the great outdoors.
Nick Cave"s superbly written script, rich in dialogue and dense character structure combined with director John Hillcoat"s vision, proves a fine example of page to screen. It is evident Hillcoat understands Cave"s complex characters and patiently introduces them in small yet tempting doses, leaving us to wonder until the final climax, exactly whom we"re supposed to be routing for. Everything is uncomfortably real, as if one can taste the dust on the roads, feel the sun"s burn on the nape of the neck, and smell the environs. All of this is then extenuated by Cave"s pulsating soundtrack. Certain parts do come off as slow and brooding at times, leaving one yearning for more action, but fans of movies like History of Violence and The Wild Bunch will find these scenes worth sitting through. Even more, there is great tension throughout the film that evokes a perpetual anxiety of waiting to be being smacked, shot or bludgeoned to death. The Proposition is surely a ride worth taking.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.