The Proposition (2006)

Here is an extremely violent movie that earns the right to be extremely violent.  It has well-drawn characters and a smart plot, not to mention biting dialogue.  And the violence serves a purpose, which is a necessity for any bloody movie I see.

The Proposition is a Western set in Australia.  We’re given two protagonists, but they are hardly heroes.  One is Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone),the new sheriff in town, pressured by his odious superior (David Wenham) to civilize his city.  He catches two outlaw brothers, the older of which is our other protagonist, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce).  The Burns brothers are accused of raping and brutally murdering a local woman, but Stanley offers Charlie a proposition.  Stanley will spare his younger brother, Mikey (Richard Wilson), from the gallows if Charlie finds and kills his older and more amoral brother, Arthur (played with sadistic aplomb by Danny Huston).

Charlie and Mikey had left Arthur’s gang and were trying to escape their past and start anew.  Charlie in particular seems to be struggling with the consequences their indulgences have wrought.  Guy Pearce gives a sly performance as Charlie, showing us a man who is tired of the loss that comes with his brother’s unchecked pursuit of satisfaction.

Captain Stanley is willing to get in bed with the enemy to regain order, but Ray Winstone conveys his understanding of what’s best for the common good.  Winstone plays him as a man who knows how to do his job, but he and his wife are out of their element, away from their home in Britain and ensconced in the lawless Australia.  He obviously loves hi wife (Emily Watson), and his desire to protect her becomes a point of conflict.

The violence is palpable, but it serves the plot and characters.  The Proposition gives us men fighting men over weak principles: loose ideas of family, law, justice, basically excuses to achieve their own selfish ends.  The movie exposes our basic natures and explores the complexities in our consciences when they disagree.  Unfortunately, there are some people who have no conscience.  This story is about rising above the people who drag us down morally.

Great movie- the violent Westerns were always the the best.  They always blew apart our ideas of archetypes, gave us characters who tried and failed to live into cliched roles, and showed us what Western cliches were hiding.  Some of the greats: UnforgivenThe Wild Bunchi.  The Proposition is among the best.  As one character breaks free from the life of violence, another asks, “What are you going to do next?”  He has no answer.  Is there any other way to live?

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