Authentic, gritty, and visceral, The Proposition is a different type of western movie. Firstly, Nick Cave, a famous musician, wrote the script. If you heard any of his songs, you pretty much know what to expect. A rather depressive but strangely captivating and above all honest experience. I just couldn’t get over that thick and incredibly immersive atmosphere. The Proposition has a proposition for you, inviting you into this bleak world for an hour and a half, to show you a slice of life of the past. This comes as no surprise as the director is none other than John Hillcoat, the guy behind 2009’s hit The Road.
And while he has been making music videos for some of the biggest Australian stars since the eighties, this is his first movie. And what a movie it is. You can feel that he has a knack for positioning the camera and conveying emotions in short bursts because of his past work. The whole vibe reminded me of the movie Spun, directed by another music video guy, Jonas Åkerlund. To match this visual quality we have stunning attention to detail when it comes to sets, props, and costumes.
They fucking handmade all the wardrobe to be as authentic as possible, including the buttons. The same goes for the weapons, all period replicas. Gunsmith Buck Merry made each of them by hand. I refuse to believe that this movie cost only $2 million to make. It looks like a $30 mill movie at least. All of this is enhanced by those mesmerizing and barren Australian vistas. The outback looks depressing and alien even now, so I can only imagine who it must have looked like in the 1880s. And that fucking heat. You can feel the sweat and that smell of lack of water through the screen.
Now, before we go any further, we must talk about graphic violence. Yes, this is a movie that features rather gory scenes that might be disturbing to some of the viewers. However, I think they were necessary to show just how brutal life was back then. This isn’t a “provocative statement” or a “marketing tool” but life itself. We all need this proverbial slap in the face from time to time, to wake us up from this horrible dream that we call life.
The Proposition is a very raw movie that doesn’t make any moral judgments. It leaves all of this to the viewer and if you don’t want to make any judgments, that’s fine, you don’t have to. You don’t have to decide who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. You can just watch the story unfold as a witness, letting that shit go. At least on the surface. In that sense, you can say that this is an old-school western movie. But in every other sense, it is a herald of a new breed of western movies. We will list a few more examples towards the end.
Four brothers Burns are hardcore criminals that spread terror and destruction wherever they go. After two of them have been captured by Captain Stanley he proposes to the older one to find the eldest of them and kill him within the nine days and they can both go free. Now, he has a decision to make.
The scenes of the rough and inhospitable wilderness, difficult choices and overwhelming melancholy are beautiful and very emotional. Bonds between family members, loyalty and justice are exposed through the choices of the gritty characters. Not to mention the colonization of the continent with the native population in huge problems that will eventually lead to its demise. Of course, the cast did a terrific job. And while Pierce and Winston were the leads you will recognize a lot of the supporting cast. Each new scene brings the possibility of seeing another great actor or actress.
Finally, if you’re looking for movies like The Proposition, check out The Salvation, Bone Tomahawk, and The Nightingale. That last one is also taking place in the Australian wilderness featuring another harrowing yet fascinating story. However, I simply cannot leave without mentioning the best western television show of all time, Deadwood. It’s at the same time bleak, depressive but also upbeat and cheerful, I don’t know how to describe the feeling it evokes in me. I just know it’s a good one.
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Nick Cave
Cast: Ray Winstone, Noah Taylor, Guy Pearce, Mick Roughan, Shane Watt, Danny Huston
Fun Stuff: Nick Cave wrote the script in three weeks.