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THE PROPOSITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, David Wenham, Emily Watson
Director: John Hillcoat
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: First Look
Features: See Review
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: September 19, 2006

“No more!”

Film ****

The mere fact that the western is such a rarity to be seen these days would make The Proposition a worthy experience. But the truth of the matter is this, not since the likes of The Wild Bunch or Unforgiven has a single picture redefined the genre. Truth be told, the film opens a new door to an even darker place that no western has ventured into before.

Right from the opening scene, you can tell the experience of this film isn’t going to be a happy one. And with each passing minute, the picture seems to get darker and darker. The violence in the film is certainly the most graphic you will ever see in a western, but had it been toned down even a bit, it wouldn’t match the brutal elements of the story.

Set in 19th century Australia, the film opens in an intense gunfight between authorities and an outlaw clan. When Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) has seized the property and confronts one of the outlaw members, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), in the aftermath of the shootout, it is then when the “proposition” comes into place. It serves as a big step in Stanley’s desire to, as he puts it, civilizing his land.

Charlie’s younger brother, Mikey, has been wounded in the gunfight and Stanley tells him that, come Christmas morning, he will hang for the numerous crimes the Burns’ have committed…unless Charlie does something for him. In order to save his younger brother from the rope, Charlie must hunt down his older and much more psychopathic brother, Arthur (Danny Huston) and kill him. Another reason for putting the middle brother up to the task is the simple fact that both Stanley’s men and slaves of the land are too afraid to seek him out, even though Stanley knows where he is hiding out.

For executing this task, both Charlie and his younger brother’s life will be spared.

So Charlie is given nine days to get the task done. Stanley provides him with a horse and a gun. Meanwhile, younger brother Mikey, who’s bloodied up and completely terrified, is being held in a prison cell at Stanley’s quarters.

To give you an idea of what all Charlie goes through on his journey, it could be best summed up in two words; escalating brutality. Along the way, he stops by the abandoned home of the Burns clan’s last victim, where it is revealed she was pregnant while being raped and murdered. He then comes across an extremely loony bounty hunter named Lamb (John Hurt). And not soon afterward, Charlie is severely wounded by a tribe of Aborigines. All of this occurs before he even crosses his older brother’s path.

Meanwhile, Captain Stanley is facing unruly behavior on behalf of the townsfolk and superiors. His superiors, in particular, aren’t too pleased upon learning of his proposition, and soon request that he be stripped of his command. In addition, Stanley must also deal with pressure coming from his wife, Martha (Emily Watson), who feels nothing but isolated.

I don’t want to give away anymore than I already have, especially what happens when Charlie finally does meet up with Arthur. Watching something as unique and brutally haunting as The Proposition works best if you let the story unfold before you. I know I was taken back by many developments in the story, as well as the graphic nature of the violence.

I haven’t even mentioned that the screenplay was penned by renowned musician Nick Cave, who also provides the film’s absorbing music score. Cave’s screenplay, along with the superb directing of John Hillcoat, is simply a brilliantly dark piece on the nature of violence, and even more about the thin line between conscience and loyalty, demonstrated in the film’s unforgettable climax.

And the cinematography should also be credited. No matter how many Austrailian films you’ve seen, never before has the outback setting served as an important character than in this film. Benoit Delhomme’s photography is a stunning piece of work, and plays a remarkable role in driving the mood and feeling of the story.

Lastly, the performances are absolutely phenomenal. Guy Pearce, always a favorite of mine, gives a performance of amazing restraint, portraying Charlie as man who isn’t sure of what he will end up doing until driven to do so. And Danny Huston, who we’re so used to seeing playing likeable characters, is as chilling as it gets in a remarkably revealing performance that will unnerve you completely.

The Proposition is as brutal and unforgettable as films gets. Thus far, I find it to be the best film of 2006!

Video ****

First off, we should mention that the anamorphic widescreen presentation is in fact in the 2.35:1 ratio and not the 1.85:1 format that the box indicates.

This is a pure knockout of a presentation from First Look. The picture carries quite a distinct look as it is necessary when shooting a film in this particular location. Both light and dark scenes fair remarkably well, and the colors are bright and tremendously vivid. The detail is absolutely incredible! No image flaws detected at any point.

Audio ****

This is also one of the best westerns I’ve ever heard on DVD. The 5.1 mix, offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS, are most explosive. You’ll be ducking for cover during the intense opening (the bullet sounds alone are striking to the ears) and dialogue delivery, as well as Nick Cave’s incredible music score also play off in incredible form. A one of a kind audio experience.

Features ***

Some nice extras on this First Look release, including a commentary track from director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave, as well as five intriguing behind the scenes featurettes which are most in depth and cover a lot of behind the scenes material. Also included is a photo gallery and bonus previews for additional First Look releases.

Summary:

I’d be lying if I said that The Proposition was suited for all tastes, but if you truly want to experience a whole new type of western, as well as a purely amazing piece of filmmaking with all the right elements imaginable, then this is a film that demands your attention. Rest assured, you will not forget this film.

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