This ‘western’ from Down Under did rather well in UK cinemas, which is no surprise considering its stellar cast including Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson. Director John Hillcoat’s The Proposition is merciless, yet hauntingly beautiful – thanks to musical poet laureate Nick Cave being responsible for both screenplay and soundtrack.
Three brothers terrorise a small community in the Outback of the 1800’s and are chased by law enforcer Captain Stanley (Winstone), who presents one of them with a proposition: if Charlie (Pearce) kills his psychotic older brother Arthur (Huston), then youngest brother Mikey will go free instead of rotting in jail or hanging from the gallows. Some local Irish rebels, however, feel oppressed by their English law enforcer and try to sabotage the deal. Matters are made even worse by bounty hunter Jellon Lamb (John Hurt)… whose boozy lyricism masks a much darker character.
“Australia… what fresh hell is this?” asks Captain Stanley, thus setting the tone for the entire film. The unforgiving heat; the dreary landscape - in which Stanley’s young wife (Watson) is an uprooted ‘English Rose’ - proves that colonising the fifth continent was no less brutal than the conquest of America. Everything seems marked by death. The Aborigines, like the Native Americans, are humiliated and killed for kicks, despite the settlers depending on their help. In the title sequence, a little child sings of a happy land far away called Australia, whilst authentic photographs from a frontier life long gone suggest a somewhat different melody….