I've been waiting since January to see The Proposition, an Australian western penned by musician Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat (who also directed Cave's other screenplay, Ghosts ... of the Civil Dead). Seldom does a film generate the kind of interest The Proposition has based solely on the screenwriter, but then, seldom does a film have as a screenwriter an artist the likes of Nick Cave. The Proposition is a bleak and violent film, and yet in spite of that, manages to be both poetic and philosophical. This is a western, yes, but not so much of the shoot-em-up variety.
The story Cave and Hillcoat paint is about conflict and contrast: Wilderness and civilization; destruction and justice; and the fine line men walk between civility and violence. The film is set in the late 19th century Australian Outback, a time rife with unchecked violence, outlaws hiding in the wilderness, vengeful posses, and hard justice; it was a tough life carving civilization out of wildness, and Hillcoat captures well the tension and sense of violence lurking around every turn.
The film centers around the interconnected stories of two men, Captain Maurice Stanley (Ray Winstone), who has been sent to the Outback to tame its land and people, and Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), the middle of a notorious trio of brothers who lead a violent gang, most recently responsible for "the Hopkins outrage" -- the horrific rape and murder of a pregnant woman, and her husband and young child. The residents of Banyon, the makeshift nearby settlement where Captain Stanley mans the jail and military police, want vengeance. But when Captain Stanley captures two of the brothers, Charlie and youngest brother Mikey (not yet out of his teens and none too bright), he offers Charlie a chilling proposition: If he doesn't go out and find and kill his sociopathic older brother, Arthur, who is the ringleader of the gang, young Mikey (Richard Wilson) will hang. Charlie reluctantly agrees.