Cpt. Stanley: Now, suppose you tell me what it is I want from you? Charlie Burns: You want me to kill me brother. Cpt. Stanley: I want you to kill your brother.
2005 Western, set in 1880s Australia. Directed by John Hillcoat, with a screenplay by rock star Nick Cave. Cave and his bandmate Warren Ellis also wrote the soundtrack. It's really good. Cave described it as a story full of beautiful sadness and longing, intercut with moments of intense violence.Here's a rundown of the plot: Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger, mentally retarded brother Mikey are Irish criminals in Australia. After a shootout in a brothel, they are both arrested and imprisoned. During the interrogation, Cpt. Stanley (Ray Winstone) gives Charlie the titular proposition: track down and kill the oldest Burns brother, Arthur (Danny Huston, son of John Huston and half-brother of Anjelica), and both Charlie and Mikey will be released. Charlie is forced to choose which brother will die - the mentally retarded and innocent child, or the protective big brother and father figure. Until then, poor Mikey will remain in the Banyon Jail, and if the job is not done by Christmas Day, Mikey will be hanged and the manhunt for Charlie and Arthur will resume.Also stars Emily Watson as the sensitive Martha Stanley, David Wenham as the pillar of the community Eden Fletcher, and John Hurt as the insane old bounty hunter Jellon Lamb.Cave, Ellis, and Hillcoat also collaborate on the 2009 film The Road, and again on 2012's Lawless.
This Aussie Western includes examples of:
Affably Evil: Arthur has a genuine love for his friends. But he will gladly murder anybody else.
Black Best Friend: Both Stanley and Arthur have one, although Jacko and Two-Bob are Aborigines, not African blacks. In fact, Two-Bob stabs Jacko to death for working with the white policemen who routinely massacre other Aborigines. "Here's your knife back, ya dog."
Crucified Hero Shot: Of Mikey (not really the hero, but still a victim figure) being flogged. If you listen carefully, you'll also notice that he's only given 39 lashes out of the full 100 by the end of the scene.
Dreaming of a White Christmas: It's Australia, so it's a broiling hot summer. It doesn't stop Captain Stanley and Martha from imagining they are at home in England. At one point, Martha even uses cotton as snowflakes.
Empathic Environment: Oh, the infinite and desolate plains of the Australian Outback during the blood-red sunset.
Even Evil Has Standards: In the backstory, Charlie and Mikey both abandoned Arthur after his Moral Event Horizon crossing. It's pretty clear that Charlie has done some bad stuff himself, but what what Arthur did was unforgivable.
Genre Deconstruction: Of The Western. A reviewer noted that the great authority figure in this genre, the sheriff, is emasculated here. It's most evident in the scenes where Captain Stanley has his authority completely undermined by Eden Fletcher, and is reduced to a pathetic bystander.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Arthur is a raging psychopath, yes, but no one had any problem with his killing Sergeant Matthews. And then there's what he does to Jellon Lamb, in contrast. Yes, Lamb is a horrible man, but Cold-Blooded Torture is still crossing a line.
Large Ham: Jellon Lamb when he's drunk, and Sam when he's pretending to be a policeman
Mighty Whitey: Subverted and defied: the police think the Aborigines are sheltering Arthur, but in fact they hate and fear him. Some of them believe he's a werewolf.
Mood Dissonance: In many ways, The Proposition is a story of contrasts. The violent events and the natural beauty of the land - the outlaws even make mention of the beautiful sunset at one point. The stars in a field of blue seen from under a withered tree and then from behind prison bars. The genteel Christmas setting and the savage torture of the Stanleys at the end.
The director has also pointed out the extreme dissonance in the "civilized" Victorian era and the violent settling of Australia. The outlaws are destroying the Victorian English attempts at beauty and order in the Australian wilderness, best represented by the trail of destruction at the end when the scruffy criminal Charlie stomps through the rose garden and the white fence.
Morality Pet: Two-Bob implies that Arthur's brothers were this to him, and that their absence has made him worse.
Moral Myopia: Arthur thinks like this. He loves his brothers and friends dearly, but for him, no one outside this little group is truly human.
Fletcher seems to feel the same way, except about race and nationality, rather than Arthur's clannish sense of loyalty. Fletcher is fiercely protective of his white colonists, but utterly cavalier the lives of the Aborigines. In any story about colonialism and cultural conflict, this trope is inevitable.
Psycho for Hire: Sergeant Matthews, who works under Captain Stanley. He is almost as horribly evil as any of the main villains, and leads a massacre of an aborigine village. Arthur may be worse than him, but when he murders this guy, it's his Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
Shout-Out: Jellon Lamb's name is likely a reference to the Scottish murder ballad "Jellon Grame", about a man who murders his pregnant girlfriend and takes her child as his own only to be murdered by said child years later, much as Charlie is forced to murder his "father", Arthur. After all, it's not like Nick Cave is ignorant about murder ballads.
Shown Their Work: According to the other Wiki: "As noted in behind-the-scenes features included on The Proposition DVD, the film is regarded as uncommonly accurate in depicting indigenous Australian culture of the late 1800s, and when filming in the outback, the cast and crew took great pains to follow the advice of indigenous consultants. In an interview included on the DVD, [Tom E.] Lewis even compares the depiction of indigenous cultures in The Proposition to the landmark film The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)."
A lot of behind-the-scenes work was done for this film. For example, the director John Hillcoat helped the actors prepare by giving them reading material and other sources for inspiration - Tom Budge (Sam) was given stuff about the My Lai massacre so he could get into the "war criminal" mindset, while David Wenham (Fletcher) was given books about Victorian English manners and etiquette.
Signature Style: Nick Cave exercises his love of literary discussion, religious debating, and extreme amounts of violence. He even gets to work in some flowers in Martha's rose garden.
Take Our Word for It: Jacko pointing out smoke on the horizon, which the white troopers can't see even when pointed out to them. We even get a shot of what Jacko sees, and if you look really, really closely, there is a tiny puff of what could be smoke.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Queenie (the female member of Arthur's gang) disappears entirely from the movie after a certain point. Fletcher doesn't appear after discovering the two prison guards with their heads blown off