Nick Cave crafts a brooding, visceral and violent brand of music – The Proposition, Cave's most recent effort as a screenwriter, is redolent of these qualities. Drenched in blood, sweat and hot dust, "The Proposition" is a vivid experience, one that fairly claws its way off the screen. It's a film that echoes the feeling of classic westerns, an inherently American genre, while filtering the works of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah through a distinctly Australian perspective – visceral and literary, The Proposition is one of 2006's greatest (and maybe goriest) works.
Directed by John Hillcoat and featuring an impressive cast, The Proposition transports viewers to the rough, unforgiving Australian outback near the turn of the 19th century. Arid desert, stale sweat, incessant flies, scorching sun, choking clouds of dust – the world is as brutal as the men upon which the film centers; whether it's British ex-pat Captain Morris Stanley (Ray Winstone) struggling to maintain a sense of civility in an utterly alien world or outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) wrestling with his fate, life is cruel and weighs heavily upon each man's soul. After cornering Charlie and his brother Mikey (Richard Wilson) in a seedy brothel, Captain Stanley presents Charlie with the titular proposition: hunt down and kill his psychotic sibling Arthur (Danny Huston) or Mikey will be executed on Christmas Day. Set adrift in the outback in search of his half-mad brother, Charlie must dodge murderous Aborigines and the relentless elements, while Captain Stanley fends off his increasingly power-hungry boss, Eden Fletcher (David Wenham) – once Eden learns of the proposition, he takes justice into his own hands, intensifying the pressure upon the already-strained Captain Stanley and his increasingly isolated wife, Martha (Emily Watson). Arthur and Charlie soon seek revenge, culminating in a vicious, devastating and blood-soaked climax that finds the men torn between loyalty and conscience.
Richly authentic and sumptuously photographed by Benoit Delhomme, The Proposition is a wrenching, unforgettable film that doesn't let up from its opening frames – moments of stark beauty are punctuated with breathtaking sequences of grisly violence, and Cave's script finds the elegiac poetry in even the most gut-wrenching moments. The cast is phenomenal – Pearce, Winstone, Watson and Huston rivet attention to the screen, fully embodying these people stranded on the edge of a new country; Pearce and Winstone, in particular, deliver magnificent performances as men ripped in two by their choices.
Melancholy and meditative, Nick Cave's screenplay is a fine, fierce showing for the singer/songwriter, suggesting that if he ever tires of music, he could certainly feed himself turning out potent, piercing efforts such as these (incidentally, Cave and Warren Ellis also composed the film's score – a wonderfully mournful, evocative work that places Hillcoat's luminous images in sharp relief). The Proposition isn't for all tastes – I can't really emphasize enough the levels of violence relied upon by Hillcoat and Cave – but for those who can weather the gore, a bleak and beautiful film, one of the year's best thus far, awaits. The DVD
Bleached, bleak and barren, The Proposition nevertheless sparkles on DVD with its flawless 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer – the choking dust, spurting blood and breathtaking Australian vistas look razor sharp and transporting; an exceptional image. The Audio:
Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 are on board here, but the DTS track edges out the Dolby Digital in terms of warmth and depth; there are plenty of gun battles and action sequences to give your speakers a workout – the opening scene in particular will set your surrounds ablaze. Ellis and Cave's haunting score is also reproduced with eerie clarity; a Dolby 2.0 stereo track is also included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles. The Extras:
Thankfully, the supplemental material explores both the making of The Proposition as well as fleshing out the historical elements that frame this story of a family mired in hell. Hillcoat and Cave sit for a low-key, informative commentary track – Cave contributes infrequently, leaving Hillcoat to handle the load for much of the film's running time. Five separate featurettes comprise the "behind the scenes" look at The Proposition: the making of piece runs 27 minutes, 23 seconds and features comments from all the principal cast and crew, with the nine minute, nine second "Info & Script" outlines the genesis of the project. The eight minute, 20 second "Characters" explores each actor's take on their role, while the 17 minute, 22 second "Research & History" delves into the turbulent period in which the film is set; finally, the eight minute, 33 second "Themes" rounds up the cast's thoughts about the aims of The Proposition. All five are playable separately or together and are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Twelve minutes, 28 seconds of deleted scenes are here, as is a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer for The Proposition and trailers for The Breed, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, The Nugget and Pumpkin Karver completing the disc. Final Thoughts:
Drenched in blood, sweat and hot dust, "The Proposition" is a vivid experience, one that fairly claws its way off the screen. It's a film that echoes the feeling of classic westerns, an inherently American genre, while filtering the works of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah through a distinctly Australian perspective – visceral and literary, The Proposition is one of 2006's greatest (and maybe goriest) works. A fantastic film, making its way to audiences who may have missed it in theatres on a DVD that balances technical details with a sense of history, The Proposition easily earns DVD Talk's highest rating – collector's series.
Portions of this review were reprinted from the Oklahoma Gazette.