Starring: Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Emily Watson, David Wenham, John Hurt, Richard Wilson
Rated R for Strong Grisly Violence, and for Language
"The Proposition" is one long exercise in revisionist Western clichés. The hero is conflicted and morose, the violence is graphic and bloody, and everyone is in desperate need of a bath and a day at the salon. This could have been hilarious satire, but director John Hillcoat treats the material as if it's the most important movie ever made. Apparently he thinks that if these characters brood enough we won't notice that they're stuck in a plot that would have been old when the Western was actually relevant.
The entire Hopkins family has just been brutally murdered, including the mother Eliza who was with child at the time of her death. The Burns gang, consisting in part of the three Burns brothers, is found to be responsible. The two younger siblings, Charlie (Pearce) and Mike (Wilson) are caught in a shootout. The sherriff, a man named Stanley (Winstone), offers Charlie a deal: he and the simple minded Mike can go free if he kills his eldest brother Arthur. It's a deal he can't refuse.
If I asked him, I imagine that Hillcoat would go on and on about how "The Proposition" is about families, the reality of the "Old West," race and class struggles, violence and guilt, and other things that bind us in our lives. I suppose that's true, but the thing is that the film doesn't offer anything new. There's precious little in this film that we haven't seen in other, better movies, and while there's nothing wrong with an old fashioned genre picture, Hillcoat presents the material as if it's truly groundbreaking. That this is a humorless affair that its too lofty to be seen as "entertainment" makes sitting through this movie a tough and tedious affair.
Fortunately, the cast is made up of some of the best talent in Britain and Australia. This begs the question of what they all saw in this material (and since the film only had a budget of $2 million, they clearly saw something that was good enough to be paid next to nothing to be a part of). But, as they say, never look a gift horse in the mouth. It's always nice to see Guy Pearce, even though he doesn't always pick the best movies to appear in (remember "The Rover?" Come to think of it, does anyone want to remember it?). Ray Winstone has no trouble playing the heavy. Danny Huston is quite good as a complete psycho. Emily Watson is good, but sets feminism back a few decades playing a woman with the internal strength of tissue paper. David Wenham plays a sniveling sadist (something the Australian heartthrob is quite good at). And John Hurt shows up for two scenes as an alcoholic bounty hunter.
There's not much of a reason to sit through this movie. The action is suitably brutal, but lovers of gore and brutality can find that in one of Tarantino's last two movies ("Django Unchained" is the way to go, just sayin'). The film looks great on a technical level, but so does any movie with a talented cinematographer. There aren't a lot of good Westerns out there, but ultimately the best I can say about this depress-o-thon is that it's not as awful as "Shane."