There is something about movies and recommending movies that can really backfire on you. Sometimes a movie just hits you at just the right time. You may not even be aware you were waiting for a particular movie to hit you at all and then it does and you just cannot shake it. The movie haunts you. You find yourself playing scenes and dialogue over and over again in your head. You may even spend time wanting anxiously to see that movie again.
The problem is that a movie may not affect the same people the same way. Someone else may watch a movie that you completely love and, when it is over, look at you afterwards and wonder what kind of narcotics you must have coursing through your system. I have had that happen. I remember watching “Talk Radio” with a friend, a movie I count among my personal all-time favorites, to have a friend look at me and shake his head.
It is with this in mind that I tell you that you must find and see the movie “The Proposition” and you must do it soon. It is a movie that came out in 2005 and I only just saw it on cable. It is a movie that I simply cannot get out of my head. It is a movie that I just cannot forget. And yet, I can completely and utterly and without hesitation understand why someone else may watch the same film and hate it, or not love it as much, or just shrug it off.
This is a movie that is unrelentingly grim. It is intense. It is violent in ways that will make you squirm. There are no real heroes in this movie. There are long stretches where little seems to happen punctuated with sudden intense, shocking violence. Even the music is a little weird. You see, there is little here that I can say that you could qualify as a recommendation.
This is a movie set in the Australian Outback. It is a western in the very classic sense of a western, except that it happens to be set in Australia instead of the American West. It tells the tale of a man so brutal he seems almost Biblical rather than just fictional. The Burns clan of bandits and murderers seem to kill just for the sake of killing and the movie opens after they have brutally murdered an entire family. In this family was a woman who was pregnant, raped and then killed anyway. These are truly horrible, monstrous people. The head of this clan is Arhtur Burns.
Arthur Burns is a movie monster terrifying because such people could actually exist. This is not a movie monster like from a slasher film. Arthur Burns is played to perfection by Danny Huston in a role that could define him for some. Arthur is a man who likes to spout poetry, listen to beautiful music, opines about family, and admire the sunset. Yet, he can also stomp a man to death with his foot if he needs to and, in retrospect, just because he wants to.
Ray Winstone plays a British Army captain named Stanley who repeatedly states that he will “see civilization brought to this country.” He is charged with bringing in this band of murderers and thieves. He also has to deal with rebellious aborigines.
The movie opens with Charlie Burns and Mikey Burns, the younger brothers, getting caught by the captain. Charlie (Guy Pearce) insists he no longer runs with his brother Arthur, but Stanley does not care. He has a proposition for Charlie. Charlie has until Christmas to hunt down and kill his brother Arthur. If he does not succeed, Mikey will hang for all of their crimes.
Mikey, meanwhile, is played by Richard Wilson, and he is so young looking you have to wonder if he is all there. He isn’t exactly mentally handicapped, but he does seem fragile, unlike his brothers. In fact, Arthur, later in the movie, states that Mikey is not like them.
Along the way Charlie runs into John Hurt playing a bounty hunter named Jellon Lamb. Although he is only in it briefly, this is a role as memorable as his role as the first man an Alien burst out of. Lamb is a man who has been in the Outback sun so long he looks positively made out of leather.
“The Proposition” was written by the musician Nick Cave. He was originally approached by the director (John Hillcoat) just to write the music. Then, as they were working on that, he was asked if he would like to write the screenplay.
Australia has never looked like this on film. It is brutal and harsh. There is sunlight everywhere and it never relents. The land looks barren and dead. Flies sit on the people as they stand around in the hot sun. The people look dirty and sweaty and, quite frankly, smelly. Even the jail cell has only bars over the roof and no actual roof where Mikey sits and awaits his fate.
At the center of this storm sits Arthur Burns. He is a monster of unparalleled evil in cinema. He thinks nothing of beating a man nearly to death and then making him watch his wife get raped by another man. I am telling you, warning you, that there are shocking scenes of brutality in this film.
At the same time the screen will capture you. If you are like me, you will find yourself sitting at the edge of your couch unable to tear your eyes away despite the horrors. When the movie is over, you will find yourself remember scenes, puzzling over motives, and unable to forget. It is a movie that haunts, it gets under your skin.
I think I may love this movie. I think that, for me, this movie may have entered my top ten of all-time favorite movies.
At the same time, I will understand if you watch it and cannot agree with that feeling yourself.