Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Proposition

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/18/06.

Known for his dark lyrics, brooding music as an iconic artist in the Alternative rock genre with his band the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave has often made songs about the dark side with subjects ranging from murder to drug addiction. From his early years in the band the Birthday Party to the Bad Seeds, the Australian rocker has endured as a figure in rock music. While his work as a musician brought him success, Cave has always had interest in the world of cinema where he often collaborates with director John Hillcoat on music videos for the band. Several of Cave's songs have been used in the film work of Wim Wenders including the song Red Right Hand that was used in Wes Craven's 1996 horror classic Scream. In 2005, Cave and Hillcoat teamed up to create a film that was close to Cave's heart in is love for the Western in a film simply entitled The Proposition.

Written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, The Proposition is set in 1880 Australia in the hot Outback where a police captain in a local town makes a deal with a criminal to free his younger brother in order to capture his psychotic, murderous older brother. Meanwhile, amidst a rebellion among Aborigines and pressure from his superior, the captain is trying to protect his wife from her newfound surroundings. Shooting on location in the hot, sweltering land of the Australian outback, the film is a reminder of Australia in its early days where the country was considered as a hell-hole in some eyes. Starring Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, David Wenham, and Emily Watson. The Proposition is further proof that the Western is still alive in all of its bloody glory.

After a bloody shootout between police, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) are captured by Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone). With the murder of a woman that still haunts the town that Stanley is trying to protect and with the Burns connected to that murder, Stanley offers Charlie a proposition. Since Mikey is very young and completely innocent, Stanley offers Mikey and Charlie pardons if Charlie hunts down his older, psychotic brother Arthur (Danny Huston) in 9 days until Mikey is hanged on Christmas. Charlie takes the proposition as Mikey remains jailed while Captain Stanley watches over the town with recent news of a rebellion among Aborigines as he hasn't returned home in a few days. Concerned for his well-being is Stanley's wife Martha (Emily Watson), who hasn't seen him a few days as she got a peek at Mikey.

Charlie rides into the Outback desert where he encounters an aging bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt) who is trying to find Arthur Burns. After a conversation that involves drinking, Charlie knocks out the hunter as he continues on his journey. Back in town, Stanley learns from his Aborigine officer Jocko (David Gulpilil) of a growing rebellion after capturing some troops where the location of Arthur Burns was revealed. Stanley gets a visit from his superior Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) on trying to restore order about the Aborigine rebels and the presence of Arthur Burns. Martha's visits to the town brought some trouble as she is reminded of the murder of the woman from Arthur Burns is her friend. Charlie gets closer to where Arthur is hiding where he's attacked by Aborigines only to be saved by Arthur's gang that included the young Stanley Stoat (Tom Budge) and Aborigine Two Bob (Tom E. Lewis). Wounded from the attack, Charlie is found in the hideout where Arthur lives as he often looks into the Outback landscape on sunset.

When Fletcher learns of Stanley's proposition, he decides to take matters into his own hands in punishing Mikey with 40 lashes to the back. Stanley tries to stop the matter as his wife also sees the punishment unaware of its damage. Haunted by the image, Martha is forced to recall a dream to her husband involving the murdered woman while Mikey is suffering from his punishment. With Stanley's men led by Jocko going into the land to find the Aborigine rebels, they find themselves closer to Arthur Burns as a bloody battle ensues where Arthur and Two Bob kills them. After an attack from Lamb, Charlie survives as his wounds are healed where he, Arthur, Stoat, and Two Bob decide to save Mikey where Arthur reveals some true intentions as Charlie is stuck in the middle between two brothers.

While the Western genre hasn't seen anything that is close to its greatness in several years, it seems that the genre in the context of American and European standpoints have run out of ideas. Fortunately for a place like Australia, there is a new idea of what the West is and like the great films before them, it's not very pretty. Setting the film in 1880s Australia seems to be a sense of inspiration for director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave for its despair, heat, and the tension between settlers and Aborigines. What the film has isn't just the epic scope of the Westerns of Sergio Leone and the anti-heroism of Clint Eastwood but also the violence and morals of Sam Peckinpah. In many ways, Hillcoat and Cave have reinvented the West back into its gritty, desolate tone.

The story and plot in many ways seem like something that Nick Cave could've come up with if he was making it into another song or a collection of songs in an album. Particularly since the film revolves around a rape/murder of a woman who is connected to every major character in the film. The film has a sense of melancholia surrounding its characters, particularly Martha Stanley recalling a dream and how it relates to the murder and the way Charlie reacts around his brother Arthur. Cave's study of character, surroundings, and morals is unique in how it's interpreted since they're all more than just the one-dimensional stereotype that's expected from the genre. The language of the West, notably in Australian terms circa 1880 is very authentic to the way someone like an Englishman like Cpt. Stanley reacts to Australia which he refers to as a hell-hole. The script Cave has created is one of the most fascinating of any Western script where the famed rock icon has now opened a new path into his creative psyche.

Helping Cave in his story is director John Hillcoat who definitely uses the Australian Outback as an atmosphere and location that not many will understand. Since the Outback is mostly a desert land that stretches for miles, it's known more for its open spaces and unbearable heat which definitely brings light to the story. The heat in the desert gives a bleakness that Hillcoat coats with not just sweat in the characters but also flies on their bodies and clothes. Most of the male characters aren't clean-shaven nor are someone who has taken a bath. Hillcoat's bleak presentation doesn't give the audience a look that is likely to pretty since it's the West. The West isn't meant to be pretty despite the fact that the locations do create an epic scope and scenery that is breathtaking in a way that only Sergio Leone would've loved. Overall, the direction that Hillcoat gives is some of the best work ever done in a Western since Clint Eastwood's 1992 masterpiece The Unforgiven.

Helping Hillcoat with his visual presentation is French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme whose photography style for this film is absolutely stunning. Taking advantage of the Outback landscape, the yellow sunlight is very prevalent in many scenes to convey the bleak heat of the location as well the night sequences which is awash with wonderful blue, greenish night colors as well as shots of the sunset that is breathtaking. Interior sequences take advantage of the yellow sunlight of the film with shades and intimate settings including a few shots in the Stanley home where the blue-green look of one scene is beautiful as well as a shot with red silhouette that is amazing. Delhomme's photography is amazing for its beauty and atmosphere.

Production designer Chris Kennedy and art directors Bill Booth and Marita Mussett also take advantage of the locations by creating a bleak town where everything looks a bit old and everything is very primitive while the Stanley home is completely different from its Victorian look inside and the gardens outside to bring a contrast of lands and idealism. Costume designer Margot Wilson does great work in creating the dirty costumes of many of male cast with old bowler hats, sombreros, and other objects while Emily Watson gets to wear a great array of old, Victorian dresses that presents the same contrast to her own world clashing with Australian culture. Sound editor Paul Davies does some great work in capturing the wind and bleakness of the Outback. Editors Jon Gregory and Ian Seymour also does some great editing to bring out long shots and perspective cutting to make the audience aware of the situation and surroundings of where the characters are as it's done in a leisurely pace for 105-minutes.

The music written and performed by Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis is mostly ambient-driven to convey the brooding texture of the film with Cave's haunting vocals. The music isn't reminiscent of the work of Ennio Morricone but rather take Morricone's approach to intensity to make way for action while Cave adds some traditional songs of the Irish including the standard of Danny Boy that is sung in a brooding fashion. It's a wonderful score from the talented Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

The film has a great cast that includes some noted small roles from Robert Morgan as a sergeant, David Gulpilil, Bogdan Koca and Sue Dwyer as a couple from the town, Leah Purcell as an Aborigine nurse from Arthur, and a quick cameo from Noah Taylor as an ill-fated gang member in the film's first showdown sequence. Tom E. Lewis is great as Arthur's psychotic yet wise friend Two-Bob who is aware of the Aborigine struggle while maintaining his own identity. Tom Budge is excellent as the crazed yet young Stoat who can do some nice singing of old Irish standards while going along with Arthur's devious plans. Richard Wilson, who looks like the late River Phoenix, is great as the youngest brother of the clan Mikey Burns with his innocent presence, fearsome personality, and a childlike mind as a young man unaware of where he is or what's going on.

David Wenham is great as the intimidating, clean-cut Eden Fletcher whose superiority clashes with the morals of Captain Stanley as Wenham brings a great presence and look to a character who doesn't care about right and wrong but about power. John Hurt is hilarious as a crazed bounty hunter who says awful things about people notably the Irish while is mad into capturing Arthur Burns as Hurt's brief appearance is wonderful to watch. Emily Watson delivers another great performance as the innocent, haunted Martha Stanley whose murder of a friend has frightened her while trying to find some escape in her own home while wondering about everything around her as she and Ray Winstone have some wonderful chemistry. Ray Winstone also delivers a complex performance as a police captain who has to uphold the law while trying to be fair in a town that isn't so fair and being a protective shield for his wife.

In a performance that can be described as brooding, Danny Huston delivers an amazing yet troubling performance as the psychotic Arthur Burns. Huston channels all of the starkness of a character who is so reclusive and so murderous that he can only come from someone like Nick Cave. Huston hits all the right notes of quietness into his character when he's in some form of peace when he’s watching the sunset yet when he becomes a psycho, his character brings a complexity of danger that it is intimidating to watch. Huston truly delivers a performance that ranks up there with the legacy his famed family has made. Guy Pearce also delivers a fantastic performance that is completely against some of his more comical and tough-guy persona to explore more darker territory. Playing a somewhat traditional, anti-hero character like the movies Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood, Pearce adds an edge and brooding texture to his performance as a man caught in the middle of an uneasy proposition. Pearce looking very ragged reveals a man who is trying to do what's right yet is in conflict to loyalty over his two brothers as Pearce adds all of the angst and grittiness of a traditional Western character.

The Proposition is a full-blown masterpiece from John Hillcoat and Nick Cave with a great cast led by Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone, Emily Watson, David Wenham, and John Hurt. Fans of the Western genre who for years have been disappointed in what the genre's been giving can wait no more. This film is a return to what the Western is and what it should be. Thanks to its awe-inspiring location, epic-scope, grittiness, and odes to the traditions of the genre, this is a film that definitely lives up to what famed directors like John Ford, Sergio Leone, and Sam Peckinpah had in mind. In the end, The Proposition brings back the West into its unruly, enchanting glory. 

(C) thevoid99 2011

No comments: