Following the rape and murder of a colonial family, outlaw brothers Charlie and Mikey burns are captured by ruthless local lawman, Captain Stanley. Rather than imprison both fugitives, Stanley presents Charlie with a proposition (though it's really a demand) that Charlie kill his older brother, and gang leader, Arthur or else Mikey will meet his demise at the end of a hangman's noose. It is a proposition which will have karmic repercussions for all involved.
Directed by Brisbanite John Hillcoate from a script by Aussie indie icon Nick Cave, this film has some of the most gorgeous photography of the Australian outback ever committed to film, showcasing it's unique desolate beauty in it's dust, flies and exquisite sunsets.
Hillcoate assembles a very fine ensemble cast, most notably Ray Winstone as Captain Stanley and Guy Pearce as Charlie Burns - two actors performing at the top of their game. Danny Huston is effective as Arthur Burns, a man whose serene exterior belies his vicious temperament. Other performers include Emily Watson and John Hurt, as well as fine Australian talent David Wenham, Leah Purcell, Tommy Lewis and quintessential movie aborigine David Gulpilil. All performances are excellent.
Despite it's high violence quotient, the film has an admirable lack of moralistic tone. There are no obvious good guys and bad guys, all the characters are shades of grey possessing both positive and negative attributes, although some characters may lean one way or the other. In particular, Captain Stanley has a good heart though history may judge his methods of justice with contempt, and Charlie Burns has a fierce sense of loyalty and honour but his associated family ties have led him to commit horrific crimes. Even Captain Stanley's wife, Martha, in all her Victorian innocence and naivety, has a dark side to her soul; an attribute which will further propel all towards their destinies.
It's strong subtext of white colonialists' condescending treatment of the aboriginal population puts this film in fine company with other Australian indigenous-themed films such as Fred Schepisi's The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith, Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout, Rolf de Heer's The Tracker and Phillip Noyce's Rabbit Proof Fence. The Proposition is the best of these. This is a big call, I know, but the fact is that none of those other very fine Australian films possess the tension which so completely permeates Hillcoates' picture. This film represents a major achievement for both Hillcoate and Cave and is the best Australian film to leave these shores since Ray Lawrence's Lantana.
Rural Australia in the late nineteenth century: Capt. Stanley and his men capture two of the four Burns brothers, Charlie and Mike. Their gang is held responsible for attacking the Hopkins farm, raping pregnant Mrs. Hopkins and murdering the whole family. Arthur Burns, the eldest brother and the gang's mastermind, remains on the loose and has retreated to a mountain hideout. Capt. Stanley's proposition to Charlie is to gain pardon and - more importantly - save his beloved younger brother Mike from the gallows by finding and killing Arthur within nine days.
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