I've been looking forward to see The Proposition for a while now, ever since seeing a poster for it at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. I like Westerns. I mean, I'm not the kind of Western fan who watches and loves every Western out there, but when I pick and choose, I really do enjoy a good Western, and this one looked good.
I guess the way I would describe The Proposition is in that tried-and-true movie review method: by comparing it to a blend of other movies. So, The Proposition is like a Western version of Apocalypse Now (or maybe just Heart of Darkness) with a generous dollop of Dead Man (the Johnny Depp movie you haven't seen) and a pinch of Clint Eastwood added in. The Nick Cave score reminded me, at times, of Neil Young's bizarre but fitting work for Dead Man, while Guy Pearce seemed to channel Eastwood's "man with no name" at times.
The plot set-up: The Burns Gang, a band of four brothers, has finally gone too far, murdering a family after first raping the pregnant wife/mother. The little Australian settlement town is outraged and demands justice, and it's Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) who's tapped to provide it. He captures the Eastwood-like Charlie (Guy Pearce) and his childish, mentally impaired(?) little brother Mikey, and makes a deal: Stanley will hold Mikey in prison for 9 days, and if Charlie finds and kills his brother Arthur Burns, Stanley will pardon both Charlie and Mikey. If not, Mikey (who Charlie loves with a fiercely protective passion) will hang.
If The Proposition was a sort of Apocalypse Now-Western-set-Down-Under (and I'm not saying that was the filmmakers' intent), it differed in two significant ways. For one, Charlie's journey to find and kill his brother is not a significant part of the film--although we see him riding and watch as he meets a Dennis Hopperish bounty hunter, his journey seems a simply geographical one, unlike the intensely significant and psychological journal of Willard and his crew in the Coppola film.
The other big difference is that The Proposition spends quite a bit of time on Captain Stanley, whose only real analogue in Apocalypse Now might be the General who sends Willard on his assassination mission. Stanley, whose proposition initially makes him seem brutish and sadistic, is humanized when we witness his dealings with his wife (played luminously by Emily Watson, who's good in everything she does), his efforts to deal more humanely than his colleagues with Australia's aboriginal people (despite his conviction that his duty is to "civilize" the outback), and our eventual realization that even his harsh proposition was an effort to get justice done with minimal casualties.
Despite the extra time spent on Stanley, the failing of this movie, in my opinion, is that it's more interested in creating an other-worldly atmosphere and showing us some dazzling photography of the Australian desert (and it is remarkably beautiful camera work) than it is in building deep characters or a gripping plot. Even so, I found it enjoyable, even if it didn't rise to the potential of its concept.
7 out of 10
(movie poster image came from http://www.impawards.com/2006/proposition.html)