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Film: The Proposition
Arthur, Charlie, and Cpt. Stanley all threaten the camera

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
    • More like Faux Affably Evil. His actions, other characters reactions and his past make it clear that he lost it long time ago. In the end it turns out he doesn't even care for his own family anymore.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Arthur at the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: Arthur and Sam.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Inverted. The Aborigines throw a spear into Charlie, and he is rescued by Arthur.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: No-one appears bothered by the death of the Chinese prostitutes killed in the opening shootout.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Drives the motivations of both Charlie and Arthur. And then it turns out that Arthur couldn't care less.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Compared to most stories, it's a Downer Ending. Compared with anything else Nick Cave has written, it's pretty happy.
  • Black and Gray Morality
  • 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."
  • Bounty Hunter: Jellon Lamb.
  • Boxed Crook: Charlie is used by Captain Stanley to track down his brother. Fletcher is quite unhappy about the idea of letting a criminal loose in order to catch a worse one.
  • Cain and Abel: Down to their first initials; C and A.
  • Cluster F-Bomb
  • Cue the Sun
  • 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.
  • Distressed Damsel: Martha, at the end.
  • 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 Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Or in this case, retarded younger brothers.
  • 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.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Much of the soundtrack has names like "Sad Violin Thing".
  • Famous Last Words
  • 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.
  • Hanging Judge: The pointlessly cruel Eden Fletcher.
  • I Was Just Passing Through
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Stanley and Fletcher fight over this.
  • Karma Houdini: Fletcher.
  • 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.
  • Land Downunder: Played in a very un-stereotypical way
  • 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.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Burns Gang, Eden Fletcher.
  • Obliviously Evil: Martha Stanley. She coerces her husband into having an essentially innocent boy flogged to death, but seems more horrified than pleased when she gets what she wanted.
  • Offstage Villainy: Actually done very well here with Arthur. When he first appears he's a charming, cultured man... and then you see what he does to Jellon Lamb...
  • Order Versus Chaos: The events of the film makes it explicit clear that Stanley can't and won't "civilise this land". It took putting chaos versus chaos to take down Arthur and destroyed any order and pretense of civilisation in the process.
  • Pet the Dog: When Charlie is hurt, Arthur is clearly beside himself with worry, and when Charlie reveals Stanley's plan, Arthur immediately forgives his planned betrayal and sets out to rescue Mikey.
  • Promotion to Parent: Arthur is implied to have raised Charlie and Mikey by himself.
  • Police Brutality:While Captain Stanley is a gentleman, his men are not, to put it mildly
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Most of the characters in this movie. Both Jellon Lamb and Sam are heavily racist. Seemingly subverted with Arthur (possibly due to his Affably Evil nature) who has an Aborigine best friend and is not heard speaking ill of any race, despite being a complete psychopath. See Moral Myopia for more on that.
  • 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.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The third member of Arthur's gang, Two-Bob, is a hard to hate: he is a resourceful and Bad Ass aborigine who just wants his land back, and is notably absent for Arthur and Sam's big Moral Event Horizon.
  • Punctuated Pounding: "HELP! YOUR! FUCKING! SELF!"
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Used in-universe.
    You were right to part company with him. What happened at the Hopkins' place was unforgivable. Did you know that poor woman had a child in her belly?
  • Rule of Three: The three Burns brothers.
  • The Sadistic Choice: Right there in the premise: choose which of your brothers will live.
  • Saving Christmas: The devastating climax.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: This is why Fletcher can make his own laws in the outback town.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Danny Huston, Guy Pearce, And Ray Winstone Are About To Shoot You
  • 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.
  • Smug Snake: Eden Fletcher, so very much.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The hauntingly beautiful "Peggy Gordon" sung while the flogged Mikey is shrieking in agony. And again during a rape scene.
  • So What Do We Do Now?: Arthur's last words at the end.
  • Take a Third Option: Turns out not to work.
  • 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.
  • A Taste of the Lash: More than just a taste. Fletcher sentences the mentally handicapped Mikey to a hundred lashes from the cat o' nine tails. They don't even reach forty lashes before the previously baying audience have all turned away in disgust and Mikey's back is reduced to bleeding ribbons. A blood-splattered Fletcher still wants the full hundred lashes.
  • Title Drop: "I wish to present you with a proposition..."
  • Trojan Prisoner: Two-Bob does this to get the gang into the prison.
  • True Companions: Arthur's band of outlaws
  • Villains Out Shopping: Or rather, reciting poetry.
  • Warrior Poet: Arthur, Sam, Captain Stanley, and Jellon Lamb. As has been noted, this is a Nick Cave movie.
  • Watching the Sunset: The film's ending between Charlie and his dying brother, Arthur.
  • The Western
  • 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
  • "What Now?" Ending: You were expecting anything else from Nick Cave?
  • Wicked Cultured: Jellon Lamb, "man of no little education", and Arthur Burns. In Arthur's case, the trope is used to humanize him, rather than its standard use as just another villainous trapping.
  • Your Head Asplode: The natural consequences of averting Pretty Little Headshots, as seen on one of the Aboriginals who try to kill Charlie. Sam is delighted by this.

Pride and PrejudiceFilms of 2005 - 2009 Puzzlehead

alternative title(s): The Proposition
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