Much like another Western of singular vision, Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, The Proposition starts with a bloody gun battle that's more typically seen in a third-act showdown. From this smoky carnage comes a proposition -- that if Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) can hunt down and kill his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), a sadistic murderer, he'll save his younger brother from the gallows. The Proposition signals its dour intentions from the opening minutes, and never fails to live up to them. The film delves into the themes of screenwriter Nick Cave's harrowing body of song lyrics -- death, loneliness, and betrayal -- which play out brilliantly against this desolate Australian landscape. That he contributes a mournful yet insistent score isn't surprising, but Cave's ease with story structure, dialogue, and characterization is refreshing indeed for a rock musician. Director John Hillcoat makes terrific use of what Cave supplies. The film's violence is inescapable, but never let it be described as gratuitous. In fact, during the film's most brutal beating, Hillcoat uses minimalism as his guide, showing only the terrified reaction of a woman listening to the crashes and overturned furniture in the adjoining room. Craig Walmsley's sound design works in concert perfectly with Cave's score, and the performances drive home the sense of amoral hopelessness that permeated Australia at that time. Huston is a truly ferocious creature, a deceptively calm outlaw with a charming country lilt, who can explode into moments of nearly epileptic rage. Matching subtleties with Huston is Ray Winstone, as the lawman desperate to preserve a sense of normalcy in a lawless world in which power is a mirage. And returning to his Australian cinematic roots, Pearce is strong as a gaunt ghost of a man at the end of his tether, numb from resignation. The Proposition is one of the most exciting Australian exports in years, a dark and chilling poem that adds to the tradition of great deconstructionist Westerns.
by Derek Armstrong review