“Australia. What Fresh Hell is This?”

Here’s something funny: I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen Guy Pearce use his own accent in a movie. Even in an Australian movie, Guy Pearce has to play the Irish guy. It’s kind of sad, really.

2

The Proposition is my latest western, and just as a heads up? I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it.

SUMMARY:

It’s the late 1800’s, somewhere in the Australian Outback, and Captain Stanley (Ray Winston) has a proposition for Irish outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce): Stanley will spare Charlie’s younger brother, Mikey (Richard Wilson), if Charlie kills his older, super bad guy brother, Arthur (Danny Houston).

NOTES:

1. This movie actually comes with a disclaimer, warning the audience that some scenes might be offensive to Aboriginals. And with lines like this —

“We are white men, sir, not beasts.”

— you know, I can kind of see why.

2. So, I enjoyed this movie for the most part. It’s a very well made film, and there are a lot of things about it to applaud . . . but there’s also something that’s keeping me from loving it the way other people seem to. I think my problem might be Danny Houston.

arthur

I’ve read a decent amount of praise for Danny Houston’s performance as the educated yet utterly sadistic older brother of the Burns clan, but overall I felt kind of underwhelmed by it. I feel like I’ve seen it done before, and really, I’ve seen it done better. To be fair to the actor, though, I’m not entirely certain that the blame entirely lies with him. While I generally like the script and story well enough, I wonder if the writing doesn’t fall down a little when it comes to Arthur’s relationship with Charlie. They don’t have nearly as much screen time together as I would have imagined, and what they do have isn’t bad exactly . . . but I feel like something’s missing.

I won’t spoil the ending of the movie — I don’t think I’m even going to do a Spoiler Section today — but I will say that while The Proposition ends on a high note, it still could have been much more powerful if the earlier scenes between Danny Houston and Guy Pearce had done much for me.

It’s also fair to note that I might feel differently about this on a second viewing. The Proposition seems like the kind of movie I might like more and more each time I watch it, but I’m not sure, which is why I’m being particularly tentative with this review.

3. Here’s what I do like, though: the cinematography in this movie is great.

proposition perty

I would easily sign up to watch more westerns on the Australian Outback because it’s a gorgeous landscape for the genre.

4. I also like how the violence is handled in this movie. It’s all very quick — like a dude is just standing there, and whoops! He’s suddenly impaled. But the violence, graphic as it may be, is also spread nicely throughout the film, so it’s like pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty EXPLODING HEAD pretty pretty pretty . . .

5. Not so pretty: Guy Pearce’s teeth in this movie. Clearly, someone was tired of non-period pearly whites.

6. Considering that Nick Cave was involved — he also wrote the screenplay — it should be of no surprise to anyone that the music in this movie is pretty awesome.

7. And about the script itself — like I said earlier, I mostly enjoy it. The beginning launches you right into the story, which is nice. The plot is simple but effective. I was surprised that there was so much focus on Ray Winstone’s character, but ultimately grateful because I think he does a great job in the film. And I like how the proposition itself plays out by the end.

But I still feel like there’s something not quite right with Charlie and Arthur’s relationship. I don’t know. It’s hard to define, but it’s just nagging at me.

8. One of the most effective scenes in the whole movie, though, is the lashing scene. There’s this character that’s sentenced to get flogged a hundred times, and you watch both his reactions and the reactions of everyone around him. Finally, the guy’s collapsed, not moving, not making a sound, and the dude lashing him just drains some blood from the whip and mechanically begins again, counting, “38.”

And you at home — and all the people on screen watching — are like, “Jesus Christ, they’re not even halfway through yet.” It’s powerful stuff.

9. I haven’t entirely decided how I feel about John Hurt yet.

jellon lamb

His character is interesting, in a way, but he also feels a little bit out of place — like I’m not entirely certain he needed to be in the story. Although . . . hmmm . . . I’m torn on that. There are one or two moments I definitely think should be in the movie.

All right, let me amend that: I think the first scene where he shows up feels a bit, I don’t know, indulgent? And it goes on a bit longer than it needs to.

10. Finally, there’s one more thing I’m torn on, and that’s the whispers on the wind, so to speak. Charlie Burns will be walking around the desert, looking at desolation and the like, and we’ll hear a voice speaking this poem — lyrics, as I later found out. The actual words themselves are kind of lovely, but I had a tiny problem taking them seriously, if only because I’ve seen Masterpiece Theater’s Jane Eyre, where Jane inexplicably hears Mr. Rochester’s voice on the wind, and I couldn’t stop myself telling Charlie to go back to Mr. Rochester.

Mr. Rochester needs you, Charlie! Save him from his misery!

CONCLUSIONS:

Lovely, violent, melancholic . . . but something about Arthur, or at least Arthur and Charlie’s scenes together, isn’t quite sitting right with me, at least not on a first viewing.

MVP:

Ray Winstone

TENTATIVE GRADE:

B+

MORAL:

Family is the most important thing. Except when it’s not.

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